'Lost Boys of Portlandia' lets city's homeless youth be creative
It can be difficult to find your way during youth years — even in the most stable family situations.
But what happens when a parent or both parents are drug-addicted, abusive, or both, and simply stop caring for their child? He or she might become a "lost kid." That is, homeless. In 2015, there were 266 unaccompanied youths age 24 and younger in Multnomah County.
One organization, Outside In, helps such children and also happens to be where filmmaker Nili Yosha was employed in 2012 when she began recruiting for a documentary film project, "The Lost Boys of Portlandia," which depicts homeless youth in Portland who debate if they should return to mainstream society, while creating their own version of "Peter Pan."
Her goal? Through film, it's to help homeless and marginalized youth change the way they see themselves and the way they're seen by the public. And she does this by having the kids themselves make the film as part of her program, Outside the Frame.
A screening of "The Lost Boys of Portlandia" will be held at 7 p.m. March 1 at Havurah Shalom, 825 N.W. 18th Ave.
"They're the real 'Lost Boys,' and Peter Pan is the quintessential leader of the lost boys," Yosha says.
But the seed of the project sprouted long before the film was finally finished in 2015.
Born in Israel, Yosha first saw homeless people when she moved to Los Angeles.
"It left an impression," she says.
She started working for Outside In in downtown Portland when the ideas of social justice and art came together.
"I'm like, how do I engage with transient young people? How do I engage them in something that matters, but also show the others how amazing and articulate and hardworking they are?" she wondered.
Movies, Yosha concluded. "It's the only way," she says.
Funding for the program at Outside In ran out, and Yosha decided to continue, creating Outside the Frame.
"I decided to keep going and founded Outside the Frame to keep doing this — making films with young people that have a lot to say and don't have access to this kind of equipment and training," Yosha says.
Yosha says she understands the criticism that the youths she worked with "don't need cameras, they need food," but defends the idea that food will "keep you alive but not thrive." That's where her program comes in.
"We want more than that for our own children, so why not for these kids? If we invest in them a little bit now, at a younger age ... then they'll be ale to sustain themselves on their own," Yosha says.
The documentary features 13 youths ages 18-23, but five are in the foreground. They perform all of the roles, and they wrote the script.
"We brought in the equipment, they learned how to use the equipment, cameras (and) microphone," Yosha says.
Youth in the film come from all areas of Portland, including transitional housing, one from North Portland and another in Northeast Portland.
"Some of the lost boys in the film have left Oregon," Yosha says.
One is in Alaska studying to be a drug and alcohol specialist.
A few of the kids will be at the March 1 showing.
Yosha says the experience was lifechanging.
"It helped me kind of figure out what I want to do. It was a combination of my pedagogical, creative and social justice passions," she says.
Outside the Frame worked on another piece about Portland's affordable housing bond last November, where youths met every week to talk about their struggles finding affordable housing. Yosha said the kids were either living in transitional housing or shelters, or in the procecss of being evicted.
Outside the Frame's next film will focus on a piece of legislation called the Right to Rest Act, which will prevent law enforcement from penalizing homeless people for sleeping or resting in public areas.
Yosha says the fun part of the program is that the children get to be the directors of their lives and not character actors.
"They're really affected by the stigmas placed on them, and this lets them say what they have to say in their own creative way," she says.
"We all have to contend with growing up, but most of us have homes to go to and parents to support us, and they had to grow up fast and mostly alone."