American Street Kid was born out of writer-director Michael Leoni’s brush with a homeless teenager and the play he wrote about it. After writing said play, Leoni began documenting other minors without homes, hoping to shine a light on their plight. But, after gaining their trust, Leoni finds that he cannot just be a passive observer. To that end, he begins calling all the shelters, rehab clinics, and transitional programs to give these kids a new lease on life.
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This is a wrenching, painful, twisting climb with many drops into oblivion, but there are occasional success stories that make the journey worthwhile. You're rooting hard for these kids, who are living in such harrowing circumstances, often just trying to survive after being abandoned or chased out of everywhere else. But the experience of watching American Street Kid comes with a major cinematic caveat: It's not a traditional documentary. It doesn't conform to narrative or journalistic standards, which creates an unintentional distance between viewer and subject. The filmmaker becomes the main character, though not to the look-at-me-look-at-me level of someone like Morgan Spurlock. As the movie's tagline asserts, it "begins as a documentary," meaning Leoni quickly abandons all pretense of objective observation and bonds with his subjects. In a way, the film is about how he can't turn away from what he finds.
By definition, documentaries are meant to educate, shed light, and “document reality” to inspire and move audiences on any given subject they may know nothing about. American Street Kid, by writer/director Michael Leoni, met these criteria – and then some. He pushed the genre further by injecting himself into the story; weary at first, I thought his inclusion would taint the outcome of the film – turns out I was wrong. Leoni begins the film by asking random people – young and old – their perception of homeless youth. Typical responses: lazy, unmotivated, and labeled as undesirable. Disheartening to hear as the absence of empathy reflects society’s lack of interest and understanding of how these youths become entrenched in these unfortunate circumstances.
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A playwright and theater director, Leoni staged “The Playground,” which was about unhoused youth. He talked to two homeless girls, who eventually wound up dead. As he learned more about the at-risk youngsters and their risky behavior, he wanted to help, and thought filming a 2-minute public service announcement would raise awareness. What happened instead changed his life.
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We've all seen teens living on the street. We've all ignored them.
If you watch this documentary, you will never ignore them again. You will never look at them the same way ever again. This will change you.
This is one of the most moving and powerful documentaries I have ever seen. It is brutal and heartbreaking, but it is also inspiring and filled with hope.
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I had emotionally prepared to watch this documentary on homeless kids. I knew I was diving into a topic that grabs at all of our inner selves. I assume most of you out there are still in touch with your inner kid. Even if your back creaks and shit falls numb on you for no reason, that past child resides deep within. The further i move away from that kid, the more insistent he is on being heard.
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Over the past several years, I have had the privilege to attend many performances of two insightful plays written and directed by Michael Leoni who went on to create the production company An 11:11 Experience. In speaking with him after seeing his plays Elevator and Famous, he shared his goal with me about how he had been searching to find the right distributor for his documentary film "American Street Kid" for quite some time. I knew it would be an amazing film, and am happy to share the news it is now streaming online.
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When Watertown native Michael J. Leoni hit the streets of Los Angeles six years ago to gather insight into the teen homeless issue of the city where he lives, he expected it to be a short project and to the point.