Kasey is among the Chicago teens tryingto make their way out of homelessness in “The Homestretch,” a documentary that presents their plight without emphasizing cures. | KARTEMQUIN FILMS
By Bill Stamets/For Sun-Times Media
In “The Homestretch,” two New York filmmakers document three Chicago teens making their way from homelessness, almost to independence. Over about four years, Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly pay more attention to Anthony, Kasey and Roque than their parents do.
The filmmakers are there for Roque’s birthday. Filming from the front door of his temporary home, they show his father drive up, hug, then drive away. The teen makes a wish and blows out candles with the film crew, not his true family. When Kasey — who once slept under parked cars — gets a ride to her high school graduation, she tells the camera she only expects “you guys” to show up.
Dispiriting onscreen statistics include: “There are 2,000-3,000 homeless youth out on the streets of Chicago every night” and “There are more than 19,000 registered as homeless with the Chicago Public Schools.” This understated documentary, though, has no agenda to shame any one family or agency.
Most telling is how Roque copes. One of his teachers takes him in. No city, county or state official did that. The only paperwork in sight: letters from Northern Illinois University, where he applies despite his lack of legal residency documents.
“I have to be my own parents,” Roque reflects. “I don’t need anybody to tell me to take things seriously.” He is serious about “Hamlet.” Reading the Bard was “life-changing” for Anthony. And Kasey offers, “ ‘Othello’ is my favorite book.”
“How you going to make your story better?” asks Anthony, who seeks custody of his little son. A program prepping youth in corporate decorum shows him in a humorous contest to tie his necktie.
Kasey suffers an overdose and takes the bus to the emergency room. She texts the filmmakers her location: “Doctors machine white walls.” A state facility later releases her. “I never thought I’d end up in a mental institution,” she admits.
Neither causes nor cures for teen homelessness are emphasized. But ideas of support are tacitly built into “The Homestretch,” from its funding to its screenings at the Siskel Center.
Twelve backers are listed in the end credits, including the MacArthur Foundation and Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. Every screening is co-presented with a support organization. Two play onscreen roles: The Night Ministry and Teen Living Program.
A PBS broadcast, tentatively scheduled for April, may help the 1.6 million other youth like Anthony, Kasey and Roque around the country.
Spargel Productions, Kartemquin Films and ITVS present a documentary directed by Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly. Running time: 89 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.