Jennifer Connelly and Anthony in 'Shelter.'

Jennifer Connelly and Anthony in ‘Shelter.’

Entered into the ADIFF 23rd Annual Film FestivalAnthony Mackie (Tahir) and Jennifer Connelly (Hannah) star in “Shelter” as two people from two totally different worlds, but find themselves homeless—and each other—on the streets of New York.

There are more than 60,000 homeless people living on the streets and in the shelters of New York City alone—where billionaires reside and do little to spread the wealth.

To most, the homeless are nameless and faceless, and occasionally a nuisance. But every single one of them has a story. And Hannah and Tahir are no different. Theirs is a story of loss, love, hope and redemption. The road to their despair and displacement is unfolded in “Shelter” as they deal with bureaucracy, and a system that caters to the wealthy and privileged, while falling in love.

Mackie (“Avengers,” “Captain America,” “Ant-Man”) Connelly (“Hulk,” “Dark City”), and director Paul Bethany (Avengers,” “Captain America,” “Iron Man”), in interviews at the Crosby Hotel in New York, talked about what it was like to film a subject so close to home. The Film Strip asked if they felt naked without the CGI, blue screens and fanfare of the big budget films when this small intimate, yet poignant and important film was shot?

“Let’s put it this way, there were no craft services to keep me happy when I wanted some cookies,” Mackie jokingly said. “It’s  give and take; it’s interesting.  Big budgeted movies makes you appreciate movies like this.” Connelly also appreciated shooting on a smaller scale. “As an actor it was an amazing, really wonderful experience. I felt exposed but in a good way.”

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the way to deal with the homeless begging is to just ignore them. What are your thoughts on that?

JENNIFER CONNELLY: I don’t think ignoring problems is ever really the solution, I think that’s what we have been doing in creating an invisible group of people that we’re not supposed to think about or look at. It isn’t true. There is no group of people that isn’t entitled to the same basic human rights as the rest of us. We’re all entitled to the same human rights.

There’s an amazing organization that we worked with, the Coalition for the Homeless; they helped Paul when he was writing the script. I spent a bunch of time with them when I started doing research for the film.  For people who want to get involved and do something, it’s a great place to start. in terms of if you want to get involved financially or with your time.

PAUL BEHANY:  “That’s a f#%king stupid idea to ignore the homeless, especially when there’s 60,000 of them, 24,000 are children, and 19,000 are women. Half of New York City’s homeless population is families. And this is a city that’s home to more billionaires than any other city on earth. [Recently] an apartment sold for a hundred million dollars in New York City.  In the last 10 to 15 years, this town has lost 32 per cent of its public housing.

You’d be a fool and a communist to draw a line between losing 32 per cent of public housing and 60,000 homeless people. I can’t believe that someone would say, ‘Ignore homeless people!’ Frankly, it’s absolutely the reason I spent three years bleeding into a movie that is trying to talk about exactly that.

Forgive me if I get a little heated about this, because that sort of mentality just drives me up the wall. The homeless have been ignored for too long.

“I’ll just tell you this. If you are a family on the brink of eviction, you’re 80% less likely to be evicted if you have legal counsel but there is no right to legal counsel in housing court. It would cost the city $12,500 to grant that family legal counsel. The average stay in a shelter for a homeless family once they have been evicted cost the city $45,000.  So not only does it seem like morally the right thing to do but it just seems fiscally the right thing to do. We are all fundamentally deserving of a home.

What did you learn about yourself doing this film?

ANTHONY MACKIE:  I think for me, the interesting thing I learned  doing this movie was the level of judgment and the lack of humanity I  saw in myself was disgusting. Every time I’d walk past a homeless person. I’d be like, ‘Get up! Get a job! Get off drugs!’ I never took into account what that person had been through, what happened to get that person to that place.

It really blew my mind, what I learned about homeless shelters and just the idea of finding a warm place to sleep at night. It reminded me of the prison system, and its lack of rehabilitation. This movie was really humbling. Now I make my kids go and scoop chicken on the weekends. If they don’t do the right thing, I take their sh*t from them and give it to other kids.

JC:  What I learned about myself, it’s so hard to keep things in context and it’s so easy to get distracted. It’s important to remain aware of what is happening around the world and to be conscious of how blessed we are to worry about the silly things that we worry about most of the time when people are worrying about where they are going to sleep and how they are going to feed their kids and will they make it through the day. That’s important to think about,

AM:  When I was a kid, we used to do this Feeding the Hungry program at my church every other Saturday and it blew my mind one day when I was scooping out food and this kid from my school was there. I was like, ‘shibbitigibbett!’  That dude and I go to school together. Somewhere between that moment of realization and appreciation for what my dad sacrificed for us to have and me becoming Anthony Mackie, I lost it. This movie really made me realize that.

“Shelter” is part of the 23 Annual African Diaspora International Film Festival at the Bow Tie Cinemas in New York City, through December 10. Other films include “Fevers/Fièvres,” “Noir/Black/Nwa,” “The Man Who Mends Women—The Wrath of Hippocrates,” “Big Bang in Pyongyang.” “Image,” “Second Coming,” “Sand Dollars,” “Hear Me Move,” and “White Lies.” For more information, contact Diarah N’Daw-Spech at [email protected]., Festival web site: www.nyadiff.org.

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]

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