Streetwise
1984
Dir: Martin Bell
'Streetwise' explores the lives of a group of kids who live or hang out on the streets of Seattle.

The problem with this sort of documentary is that sometimes one feels that one measures their success by how depressed they make you feel after watching them.
The idea of watching the pitiful lives of kids who have no homes, no parents (or totally dysfunctional parents), and whom society has abandoned, well... it doesn't sound like a good night out.

Of course it is an entirely noble endeavor to try to open people's eyes to the sad situations that occur in the world, particularly if increased awareness can help remedy those same situations.

But, again, how many people want to witness misery on a Friday night? If we want to see that, we only have to pass the beggars on the Sukhumvit overpass, clutching their apparently rented babies.

However...

"Streetwise" is so much more than that. Yes, of course it contains scenes that are extraordinarily moving, but it is ultimately a film about the strength of the kids, and their power to survive.

There's a wonderful scene were one the kids explains how he eats pizzas that have been thrown out from a pizza restaurant after customers have ordered them and then not turned up to collect.
He says that if you want a particular topping, you can order it yourself from a payphone, and wait till they throw it out.

There is a scene where one of the girls is saying good-bye to a boy. They will not see each other for some time. It is a scene of such subtlety, subtext, and innocence, that few writers could have achieved such poignancy. The girl seems to want to tell him that she loves him, but he reacts with such nonchalance, that she struggles to hold back her tears. It is the sort of scene that we might imagine in a school or college, but in 'Streetwise' it takes place in a squalid room in a squat - conversation between two homeless children.

This is an extraordinary documentary, which once seen, will never be forgotten.

Paul Spurrier