HOW DID THESE WOMEN
Every decade or so, we witness vicious attacks on federal government funding for the Arts. The most recent assault was aimed at NPR and PBS; even Elmo was forced to take cover somewhere over on Sesame Street. Yet history has proven that the arts, more than just a means of entertainment, are vital to the functioning of a healthy and productive society. Ask students of dance, music, and acting about the impact their education has had on their vision of themselves as achievers. You’ll hear over, and over again: “It changed my life.”
In 2012, I set out to make the film HOW I GOT OVER, documenting 15 formerly homeless and low-income women in addiction recovery as they participated in the theater program "Life Stories." Over 12 weeks, I observed as they crafted, and rehearsed, an original play based on their harrowing true-life stories, before taking the stage for a groundbreaking one-night-only performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I was interested in documenting this journey on film to further explore the arts as a transformative endeavor. Could telling your story save your life? As an advocate of public arts funding, I wanted to discover if "Life Stories" could be a model for the nation.
As a longtime resident of Washington D.C., I have seen the tale of two cities up close. The federal government doles out billions to the military while it drastically short-changes vital Arts Programs. Ironically, Washington D.C. leads the nation in poverty, outranking all other 50 States. 21% of women in D.C. live in poverty--many of them seek shelter at N Street Village, a temporary housing facility, and the backdrop to our film.
How did the fascinating women of N Street Village become homeless or end up in jail? Before filming, I was not aware of the shocking statistics: 83% report a history of trauma, 86% report mental health or substance abuse issues, and 25% are chronically homeless. As I became educated on the systemic predicators of homelessness, I wondered how these women were ever to move beyond their circumstances, and what might aid their healing.
Achievement oriented, our culture does not always value our connection to one another or our understanding of each other’s life stories. Historically, America has declared war on poverty over and over again, but it is never victorious because it does not use the tools we have at our disposal - tools including the arts.
I made this film because I believe a connective power exists between a filmmaker and a subject, and between one who is willing to testify and the one who bears witness--- and I want to see how much farther that connection can go to make positive change in the world. What I did not foresee when I began filming HOW I GOT OVER is how much I have in common with the ladies of N Street, despite our surface disparities. Now, our stories are now forever entwined.
In "My Soul Look Back in Wonder," the play that emerged from this creative process, one of the women proclaims around the halfway mark, "This is where your story joins my story, and becomes our story." We are only at the beginning of a difficult, imperative conversation on homelessness, poverty, and arts education, and it is my hope that viewers of HOW I GOT OVER will join us.