In her latest documentary, “Game Girls,” which premieres in Panorama, Polish director Alina Skrzeszewska returns to Los Angeles’ Skid Row – considered America’s homeless capital – to accompany a lesbian couple as they struggle to survive.
Skrzeszewska, who grew up in Germany, has been based in L.A. since 2005, when she traveled there to study film and video at the California Institute of the Arts.
She later discovered Skid Row, a place she has very much felt tied to since she moved into the King Edward Hotel on Fifth Street in downtown L.A. and made her first feature documentary there.
“It’s become a sort of spiritual home for me. I’ve made several films there already, but I feel I still need to continue,” she says.
Indeed, Skrzeszewska has remained close to a number of people she met then. “That’s a sort of family, too.”
What is it that draws Skrzeszewska to Skid Row, an area most Angelenos make an effort to avoid?
“That’s a big question,” she says. “I’ve been trying to answer it for the past 12 years, ever since I first started hanging out there. It’s a very weird place, full of chaos. I like to create out of chaos. Anybody who’s ever seen my studio can attest to that.”
Skrzeszewska says she identifies “with the theme of displacement that’s a motive in people’s lives on Skid Row.” She describes the area as a “kind of refuge, a home for people who had to leave their home or never really had one to begin with. People there recognize each other in their suffering. And it’s a place where people who are routinely marginalized can feel accepted.”
“Game Girls” follows Teri and Tiahna, a lesbian couple trying to survive on the streets while struggling with alcoholism, drug dealing and prison stays.
During workshops that Skrzeszewska initiated for women in the community, the couple discuss their dire situations while also working to improve their lives.
The workshops were part of the initial idea for the film. “I wanted a regular meeting place for women, something inspiring and with depth,” Skrzeszewska says.
“For me it was important to have the workshop as a sort of community space of feedback for the project itself. I wanted to avoid getting into some pitfalls of my own limited point of view. I wanted to have this community to run things by, and to feel like it was supported in that process. So that really did happen.”
Skrzeszewska worked with drama therapist Mimi Savage, who ran the workshops and went on to establish the Studio for Expressive Arts LA in Glendale.
“Very often, Skid Row is presented as this terrible place, something like the worst place in America,” Skrzeszewska notes. “But to me it’s not Skid Row itself that’s the problem. It’s the conditions of our society that make a place like Skid Row possible.”
Despite telling a very American story that highlights one of the most shameful and disgraceful aspects of U.S. society, “Game Girls” is very much a European project – a coproduction between Marseille-based Films de Force Majeure, Blinker Film in Cologne, Germany’s ZDF and German-Franco broadcaster Arte, with
Paris-based Doc & Film International handling world sales.
Jean-Laurent Csinidis of Films de Force Majeure was the first to board the film after meeting Skrzeszewska at a pitching forum in Lisbon and becoming intrigued by the project.
“I didn’t think it would be possible to have a French producer for this film. I was looking for somebody in Germany at the time, because I was still partly based in Germany. It was the strangest thing, telling everyone that this workshop for women on Skid Row in Los Angeles was financed from France.”