Street Reporter – Overcoming Homelessness

Street Reporter, a documentary short directed by Laura Waters Hinson is being considered for an OSCAR®. The film follows a woman transitioning from homelessness to becoming a photojournalist so that she can tell the stories of those around her.

We caught up with Hinson to discuss her journey creating this documentary, her passion for creating films on social issues, the power of film for social change and impact, the epidemic of homelessness, what inspired Street Reporter and being considered for an OSCAR®.

Do you have any personal experience with homelessness? If so, what was the experience like and how did that influence the work you did with the street reporter? 

As a resident of the District of Columbia for nearly two decades, I have witnessed the homelessness crisis expand around me as the city experienced unprecedented levels of development in a very short period. While I have never experienced homelessness personally, I became concerned by the myriad “tent cities” that cropped up across the city and began wondering about possible solutions. This partly led me to explore the issue of homelessness through film. 

How did your passion for creating films that address social issues start? What has the journey been like?

My first documentary, As We Forgive, was about the reconciliation movement after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and was a story that changed my life. The film followed two women on very different journeys to confront and reconcile with the men who murdered their families during the genocide. The film provoked deep conversations among audience members and was shown at schools and in villages across Rwanda as part of a major educational outreach campaign. As We Forgive showed me how powerful of a tool film can be for social change and impact, and I’ve been seeking to tell stories of hope in unexpected places ever since then. 

How did the idea of ‘Street Reporter’ come about? What is it about? What inspired it?

As a professor of film at American University, I direct the Community Voice Lab, which produces documentary films that capture the voices of community storytellers too often unseen and unheard. The creative ethos of Community Voice is that of collaboration, rather than extraction, in which our filmmakers and local storytellers work together to tell stories of hope, resilience and determination for the common good.

Through the Community Voice Lab, I partnered with Producer Bryan Bello, a PhD candidate in the School of Communication at American University with a passion for citizen journalism. Bryan co-founded the nation’s first homeless filmmaking cooperative at Street Sense Media, of which Sheila White was a member.

Street Reporter began as a “meta” story: our production team followed a group of journalist-filmmakers reporting on the story of “tent city” for the local street newspaper.

After months of filming with the reporting team, I realised that Sheila’s story was the one I needed to tell. Sheila was on a clear journey to overcome the obstacles in her life and to achieve her dream of becoming a photojournalist by going back to school at the age of 59. I felt that her story could bring hope to people facing similar challenges, while also breaking down the tired stereotypes many people have about those experiencing homelessness. 

Image from Street Reporter
What was the journey like in creating Street Reporter?

Production began in the Fall of 2019 in Washington, DC, and concluded in June of 2021. Like many films, the pandemic slowed down our process, and yet, in the end, it was a blessing as the story unfolded in unexpected ways that produced a more universal and emotionally resonant ending.

The editing process was challenging, as there were so many powerful stories that we couldn’t include in the short film format. At the time, it was extremely painful to see so much of the film end up on the “cutting room floor” but I knew it was the right choice to focus primarily on Sheila’s journey given how her life transformed over the two years that I spent following her.

Did it take a toll on you mentally seeing and hearing the stories?

Homelessness is a set of issues clustered together that result in people living on the streets. In hearing and documenting people’s lived experiences of homelessness, I realised how complex the situation is and how each person has a different set of needs to help them get into safe, permanent housing. There were a few times when I felt a sense of hopelessness, but that made me more determined to follow stories of change and transformation like Sheila’s, to give viewers a vision of how solutions to homelessness can truly change lives. 

Homelessness is a set of issues clustered together that result in people living on the streets.

What do you hope to achieve with this film and why is it relevant for everyone to watch?

I long for viewers who have not experienced homelessness to see themselves in Sheila’s story in order to break down the psychological barrier between those who are housed and those who are unhoused. All of us, if given the life circumstances of Sheila or anyone else facing homelessness, could easily end up in the same place. When you pass by a tent city, I want people to think of Mike, and how aware he is of being dehumanised by the experience of homelessness. By documenting these film participants’ lives, I hope the story generates empathy that leads to action and solutions to homelessness and housing affordability. 

How did you feel hearing that the Oscars is considering your film?

It’s incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to compete at the Oscars!

What’s next for you?

I just finished a new feature documentary called PROJECT HOME about 3D-printed houses which explores how this new technology can help address the global housing crisis. That film just premiered earlier in October at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, IN. After focusing on a personal story related to homelessness in Street Reporter, I was eager to study solutions that could impact people’s lives on a larger scale, which fuelled my interest in the 3D-printed housing topic. 

Watch the trailer of Street Reporter here:

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