The Street: A Film with the Homeless

Made over a period of six years, "The Street: A Film With the Homeless" closely follows the occasional ups and all-too-frequent downs in the lives of three homeless men in Montreal. First-time director Daniel Cross makes no attempt to hide his sympathy for the characters he's portraying, and, in spite of low-tech production values, pic has a raw, visceral force that draws in the viewer; the main characters, a desperate group, are never less than riveting. The grainy, gritty look of the 16mm filming will make this a tough sell, and some TV programmers looking for more journalistic distance may be troubled by the friendships Cross develops with his subjects over the course of the film. But it is a remarkably intimate portrait of what it is like to attempt to survive out on the streets, and the affecting story of how these three men's lives fell apart makes this a natural for pubcasters and other educational tube slots

Growing out of Cross’ fascination with the hobos panhandling just outside the Guy subway station in the heart of downtown Montreal, pic was begun in 1990. Two of the main figures in docu are the Claven brothers. At the outset, John Claven is being evicted from his apartment and decides to live on the street for a couple of months until he pulls his life back together. His brother Danny, who is 25, has been living on the street since the age of 11 and is addicted to booze and a wide array of drugs.

Danny is prone to wild mood swings, and, when he’s in his gentle, laid-back phase, he can be quite a charismatic fellow. But he’s just as likely to be shown beating up guys at the subway station and generally making as much trouble as possible. He spends a lot of time working with stray dogs at an animal protection center in rural Quebec, but he eventually has a falling out with the people who run the place.

The other member of the Guy Street gang is Frank O’Malley, known as the “King of the Hobos.” A rather dapper street person, this Irish-born alcoholic in his mid-50s considers himself to be a “classy bum” who’d rather stay in a rooming house for some privacy if he could. But he hits the bottle just as hard as the Clavens, and, because he’s diabetic, the physical effects of the drinking and street living are even more disastrous for him. After his gangrenous left leg is amputated (halfway through the pic), he looks to be straightening himself out. But as soon as he hooks up with his buddies out on the street, he goes back to the booze.

By befriending the Claven brothers and O’Malley, Cross gets them to open up in interviews much more than they likely would have in a more conventional docu, and they often let him continue to shoot at the most personal moments. Cross’ ultra-personal approach is what sets his film apart from other docus on homeless people, and it’s near-impossible not to sympathize with these guys’ wrenching struggles.

It is the complex, sometimes funny, often maddening personalities at the center of this real-life drama that hook the viewer. Their imploding lives aren’t pretty, but they make for an absorbing piece of sociological filmmaking.

Tech credits are unabashedly low-fi, though pic does feature a nice, bluesy soundtrack built around the accomplished guitar work of Canadian rocker Jimmy James.

Popular on Variety

The Street: A Film with the Homeless


Production: A Cinema Libre release (in Canada) of a Necessary Illusions production, in association with SCN-TV, TV Ontario, the National Film Board of Canada, the Canadian Independent Film & Video Fund, Canada Council, CFCF-TV, Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec, Concordia University, SODEC and Telefilm Canada. (International sales: Jane Balfour Films, London.) Produced by Daniel Cross. Executive producer, Peter Wintonick. Directed by Daniel Cross

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, 16mm), Richard Boyce; editor, Peter Wintonick; music, Jimmy James; sound, Cross, Serge Noel; associate producers, Don Haig, Richard Michaud, Dennis Murphy, Adam Syamsky, Andre Herman. Reviewed on videocassette, Montreal, June 17, 1997. (In Montreal Festival of Cinema & New Media.) Running time: 79 MIN.

More Film

  • LargoAI

    LargoAI Wins Inaugural San Sebastian Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Swiss artificial intelligence and data analytics company LargoAI won Sunday’s first-ever San Sebastian Film Festival Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge. LargoAI’s software provides data-driven filmmaking strategies, similar to those used by major VOD platforms which aggregate and often horde their own user-driven data. From early in the screenwriting process through development and [...]


    FiGa Snags 'Contactado,' By The Team Behind San Sebastian Winner 'Pelo Malo' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s FiGa Films has picked up worldwide sales rights to “Contactado,” the upcoming feature by Sudaca Films’ Marité Ugás and Mariana Rondón, the duo behind San Sebastian 2013 Golden Shell winner, “Pelo Malo.” The Sudaca partners are attending San Sebastian to pitch Rondón-helmed project “Zafari” at the 8th Europe-Latin American Co-production Forum. Directed by [...]

  • Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

    'Ad Astra' Lifts Above Competition at International Box Office With $26 Million

    Though “Ad Astra” was overthrown by the Crawley family at the domestic box office, Brad Pitt’s astronaut drama reigned supreme at the international box office. Directed by James Gray, “Ad Astra” launched overseas with $26 million from 44 foreign markets. The $80 million sci-fi epic debuted in North America with $19.2 million, bringing global box [...]

  • hugh jackman tiff bad education

    Toronto's Biggest Deal Goes to HBO: A Sign of the Future? (Column)

    When it comes to how we’ll be watching movies — or, at least, watching serious dramas for adults — in the future, here are two stark and timely contradictory facts: 1. Last week, as the Toronto International Film Festival drew to a close, a deal that had been in the rumor stage for a while [...]

  • 'Talking About Trees' Helmer Suhaib Gasmelbari

    'Talking About Trees' Director Suhaib Gasmelbari Receives Variety MENA Award

    Suhaib Gasmelbari, whose Sudanese documentary “Talking About Trees” premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, received the Variety Middle East and North Africa Region Talent Award Saturday at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt from festival director Intishal Al Timimi. Variety critic Jay Weissberg, who selected the honoree, said that it is not usual that [...]

  • Josefina-Molina

    Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday. She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content