"Creating art from chaos."
KNIGHTS OF THE ROAD
How I came to start the Homeless Film Project & make a feature film!
by Gregory Pearse
In the summer of 2009 my life spiraled downwards. I became extremely ill with a heatstroke. I lost my job. My marriage crumbled into dust. I was living out of my car with the clothes on my back and delivering newspapers to make some money.
One day, I met two homeless guys, who were selling papers on a street corner. Chris Marshall was a vet from the Gulf War. When he smiled, he had more holes than teeth. He was haunted by personal tragedy and a relentless guilt. He had tried to commit suicide twelve times and numbed himself by guzzling beer like it was water. Jesse Morin was a talented artist who had been in and out of prison eight times, mostly for petty crimes.
Over two large pizzas and a frosty pitcher of beer, I asked them if they would like to change the world. Their eyes widened as they put down their mugs. I suggested we could make a feature film together with no money and no resources, just by our wits and a raw creative spirit. I had been making films that way for two decades, so I knew it could be done. They readily agreed to the challenge.
We loosely devised a plot about a delusional homeless man who wins 40 million dollars in the lottery. Then we added into the mix the Devil disguised as a street person. And homeless advocate Jay Hamburger came onboard as Chris' doctor. So began our great Faustian experiment!
Over the course of the next six weeks, I saw dramatic changes in Chris and Jesse. I was amazed at their chemistry on screen, the way they magically ad-libbed their dialogue, their humor and their warmth of spirit. Their artistic intuition was almost always dead-on. I remember when we arrived at a cemetery to film the climatic confrontation between Chris and his ever-present devil. Jesse went into a heavily weeded area on the outskirts of the cemetery and discovered a long branch, which worked perfectly as a staff. He then put a skull on top of it, transforming the staff into a royal scepter for his devilish character. That simple genius of a gesture transformed the feel of the whole sequence.
More importantly, through our work together, they found the noble path. I was reminded of Carl Jung’s theory of how Art can be used to counteract “feelingsof trauma, fear, or anxiety and also to repair, restore and heal.” They began to wash themselves and their clothes on a regular basis. They cut back on their vices. Their self-respect increased daily. They demanded more of themselves. They read more, discussed the issues of the day, as well as more philosophical matters. Chris started to confront some deep spiritual wounds. They began talking about plans for the future, how they would change their lives. In short, they become like "knights of the road".
All this effort finally culminated in the film, Mr. Chris & His Devil. A raw, unpasteurized sense of life pulsates through its frames. There is no acting. It simply documents the inner-life of a homeless veteran fighting for his sanity on the streets of Houston. It is the story of Christopher Marshall. And I dare anyone not to feel deep compassion for this suffering human-being by the end of the film.
So have we changed the world? Did we transform ourselves? Maybe a little. But every little bit helps. Like Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Copyright (c) 2011 HomelessFilmProject
design by Gregory Pearse