‘Lost Angels’ Finds Struggle and Grace Among Skid Row’s Homeless

A community that has been arrested, neglected and shoved aside faces up to the camera and says, ‘We are alive!’

KK and LeeAnne, a couple whose care and affection toward each other is only one of the touching stories in the new documentary Lost Angels, are seen here on the streets of Skid Row. (Photo: Courtesy of Cinema Libre)

Dec 6, 2012· 3 MIN READ
Stephen Saito writes about movies for the L.A. Times, IFC.com and his own site, The Moveable Fest.

The new documentary feature Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home is that rare movie that comes out of another movie, but is not a sequel. Think of Lost Angels as an amplification more than as a follow-up.

While producing the 2009 film The Soloist—the story of a friendship between Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a Julliard-trained cellist whose schizophrenia lands him on Los Angeles’s Skid Row—Gary Foster spent many hours in a downtown L.A. district populated by some of the city’s most-struggling homeless people.

During long days on the job, Foster got to know the community. He found himself wanting to spend even more time in a place where money and resources are limited, but spirit and compassion are plentiful.

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“In the past when I’ve gotten involved in films, it’s a job,” says Foster, who has been behind such hit movies as Ghost Rider and the Kevin Costner comedy Tin Cup. “You immerse yourself, and you do the best job you can, and then you move onto the next. This is one of the first times where my experience continues past the movie.”

That experience led Foster to join the board of directors of LAMP Community, a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides housing and recovery services to people living on Skid Row, services such as what were made available to Nathaniel Ayers. Foster’s work on The Soloist also resulted in him serving as an executive producer on Lost Angels, which opens in theaters this week.

Lost Angels aims to give audiences the same awakening to the humanity of the residents in one of the nation’s most impoverished areas, an awakening that the producer felt impelled to share. In fact, Lost Angels emerged from a passion for the neighborhood that grew within many of the cast and crew working on The Soloist.

Not only have these Lost Angels led incredible lives, but the misfortune that suddenly or gradually steered them to Skid Row could happen to any one of us.

L.A.’s Skid Row has come under even greater hardship in the years since The Soloist filmed. Encroaching gentrification is pushing many residents out of the only place they’ve been able to make home. Furthermore, begun in September 2006, the LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative gave a freehand to police to arrest homeless residents on the smallest of infractions, in effect criminalizing poverty even as the depressed economy has driven more people out onto the streets.

As noted in Catherine Keener’s opening narration for Lost Angels, Skid Row is an area of Los Angeles that isn’t designated on any map, which means the people who live there are rarely documented.

The film melds stories from a diverse and engaging cast of characters: There’s Linda, a bighearted woman who suffers from the skin-damaging neurofibromatosis disorder; and Bam Bam, a bipolar, transgendered former electrician who now lives with HIV; and Detroit, a sharp-witted former crack addict who ran away from home at 17; and Danny Harris, an Olympic silver medalist in hurdling who rose from the depths of drug addiction to work at the Midnight Mission, where he himself had been taken in for recovery.

Director Thomas Q. Napper’s perspective on a community that is literally being brushed aside reveals the area’s residents as fully-faceted people who are more alike-with than they are different-from any other humans. Not only have these Lost Angels led incredible lives, but the misfortune that suddenly or gradually steered them to Skid Row could happen to any one of us.

“For whatever reason, people end up on Skid Row, whether it’s a mental health issue and they don’t have the resources to get care, or their economic life is not good. But a majority of the people down there are trying to better their lives,” says Foster, who has become a sponsor to some of the people depicted in Lost Angels. “As a society, we need to make sure that we find ways to support them, whether it’s permanent support of housing, supporting missions and agencies or trying to create better mental health care in our country.”

Acknowledging that the overhaul of our country’s attitudes and policies toward poverty, addiction and mental illness is a massive undertaking, the film is introducing smaller ways individuals can help.

During its theatrical rollout, which begins this week at the Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles, the film’s distributor, Cinema Libre, is donating a portion of all box office proceeds to LAMP. (Locate screening times here.)

A Q&A with Lost Angels filmmakers and LAMP Community clients featured in the film will follow the Friday and Saturday 7:10 p.m. showings.

As Foster notes, financial consideration is appreciated, but reconsideration of the Skid Row community is equally important.

He tells TakePart: “I’d like to see people have a better understanding about the humanity and the struggles and give these people credit for trying hard to find a better life rather than turn the other way and put them off to the side.”

A national survey in 2011 found that one in three Americans were one paycheck away from homelessness. Tell where you fit in and how you feel about it in COMMENTS.