BWW Review: American Street Kid


BWW Review: AMERICAN STREET KID by Writer/Director Michael Leoni

Writer/Director Michael Leoni Streams his Latest Visionary Artistic Creation: A Very Personal Documentary Film AMERICAN STREET KID

by Shari BarrettAug. 25, 2020

Over the past several years, I have had the privilege to attend many performances of two insightful plays written and directed by Michael Leoni who went on to create the production company An 11:11 Experience. In speaking with him after seeing his plays Elevator and Famous, he shared his goal with me about how he had been searching to find the right distributor for his documentary film "American Street Kid" for quite some time. I knew it would be an amazing film, and am happy to share the news it is now streaming online.

In my research on teen homelessness in America for this article, I learned that according to the National Center on Family Homelessness, a staggering 2.5 million children are now homeless each year in America. This historic high represents one in every 30 children in the United States. Did you know 1.8 million homeless kids are living on the streets of America, and every day 13 will die? And within 48 hours of being on the street, 2 out of 3 kids will turn to prostitution in order to survive? These facts are brought into focus via first-hand interviews during Michael Leoni's "American Street Kid" film documentary, which began when he arrived in Los Angeles and set out to do a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about homeless youth on the streets of Hollywood. In his eye-opening film, Leoni leads us into a world that most people don't know exists - a world where in order to survive, kids are forced to sell drugs, beg for money or sell their bodies. They live under bridges, in abandoned houses or anywhere else they can hide to remain safe from the dangers they face daily on the streets. We are taken along with him during his journey with homeless teens in Los Angeles as they learn to trust him with his camera and willingly expose the truth and illuminate the hardcore reality of this American crisis which has no apparent easy or available solutions to get kids off the streets. The teens interviewed have traveled from across the country to converge in Los Angeles with the dream of finding something better, most escaping from abusive family situations at home or timing out of the foster care system at 18 and dropped off on the streets to find their own way, often with no support system except other homeless street kids. Their powerful stories are heartbreaking while their unrelenting hope and determination to create a better life shines through when drugs don't get in the way. In this true tale of trust, love, friendship, and the triumph of the human spirit, Leoni shines a beam of light into these kids' lives, showing them that someone cares what happens to them and will do what he can to secure their safety. His answers provide insight into what it would take to really help kids turn their lives around and get off the streets: Transformational Living to assist these lost kids getting off the streets and finding a support system to assist them in staying clean, going to school or finding a job, and living in a safe place. But the process must begin with each finding someone who cares about them before they can really care about themselves, often for the first time in their lives. These lonely and lost throw-away kids whose parents literally tossed them out onto the streets or into foster care with then threw them on the streets at age 18, with mountains to climb before attaining a better life than just looking for a way to survive on the streets day-to-day, will tear at your heartstrings with their brutal honesty. Michael (Leoni): "I went out on the streets with some friends and that PSA turned into six years since I got sucked into that world and realized there was more than two minutes that needed to be addressed." Shari (Barrett): Your resulting film "American Street Kid" was first shown at film festivals, and generated several awards including the Social Impact Film Award at the Hollywood Film Festival and the People's Choice/Power of Film Award at the Beloit (Wisconsin) International Film Festival. Then it had limited screenings last year at 10 sites across the country. But it took quite a long time to get it distributed to the public, now online since movie theaters are closed due to the pandemic. (Leoni): "We were looking for the right home and were on hold at many different places. What took so long was that we care so much about the kids and we wanted to make sure it was at the right home that cared about it for the right reason. When Toronto native Howard Barish, an Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning producer, director and distributor, saw the film, he immediately jumped on board as Executive Producer. We felt that Howard had the passion for the kids, not just for the movie, and that was the most important thing for our team. He's like an angel to us." Where can homeless teens go when all doors are closed to them? (Barrett): The worldwide positive reception and press accolades are long overdue and well-deserved! It must be so fulfilling to be getting that kind of acknowledgement for a project so close to your heart. (Leoni): "It's appealing to people all over the world, which is amazing. It's a human issue. Yes, it's about homeless kids and yes, it's about what's going on out there. But it's about how we treat each other as human beings and knowing that we're all family in this world and that these kids aren't ignored and they're not invisible. We're all part of this human family." (Barrett): Tell me a little about the kids featured in the film.(Leoni): "American Street Kid" follows eight teens - Marquesha Babers "Kiki", Ryan, Greenz, Bublez, Nick, Ish, Crystal and Mischa - who have been living on the streets since ages 15-16. In order to survive, the kids are forced to sell drugs, beg for money or sell their bodies while they live under bridges, in abandoned houses or anywhere else they can hide to remain safe from the dangers they face daily on the streets."

(Barrett): That's a lot different than my experience growing up in living in West Los Angeles and spending my teen years during the 60s walking around the streets of Hollywood when it was safe to do so since homelessness was not as apparent as it has become today. The robbing of modern teens' innocence is heartbreaking to me, and I thank you for bringing the problem to light. (Leoni): "I'm drawn to helping kids and helping the situation that they're in. It's not easy to grow up in this generation with social media and all the disturbing things coming at them and all the access that they have. It starts with the youth, and that's what I think I'm drawn to - helping the youth be heard and to be seen." (Barrett): And to perhaps gain the support of others to change our world for the better, working to end homelessness across all ages and backgrounds. While I was working on this article the morning of Monday, August 24, Mr. Leoni shared on Facebook: (Leoni): "Everyone always asks 'what took this movie so long to get out there?' We had many offers from some pretty big companies, over the years, but we felt, as a team, that they didn't really care about the kids or the message, and for us, there was nothing more important than that. I want to give a big THANK YOU to our Executive Producers, Howard Barish, Sarah Findlay and Mark Burley who do care, as I do, about how do we help the kids, as do my brilliant producing team Michelle Kaufer, Erica Katzin and Jon Pavlovsky who busted their asses daily with this film, and would stop at nothing to get it done." "Along with the rest of my team, I want to thank the kids who invited me into your world, and treated me like a family. And we still are to this day. Love you very much. I hope that we all get your message out there and get America to WAKE UP! If you get a chance, watch our film so you can see what's going on in our country." (Barrett): While Michael Leoni's 104-minute documentary "American Street Kid" may not be an easy one to watch due to the reality exposed, its profound message needs to be heard. Its recent release on major streaming platforms has been steadily gaining buzz, and every ticket sold will help the organization created by Leoni to get these kids into loving homes, stable employment, and needed education and rehabilitation programs. I encourage everyone to tune in to open your eyes to what is really happening to homeless youth on the streets of America. Then go out or pick up a phone to add your voice to changing America into the kind of country it should be for everyone. And please remember to #Vote2020

AMERICAN STREET KIDRated: Unrated Release Date: August 21, 2020 Director/Writer: Michael Leoni Executive Producers: Howard Barish and Mark A. Burley Producers: Erica Katzin, Michelle Kaufer, Michael Leoni, and Jon Pavlovsky Cast: Michael Leoni and American Street Kids living in Hollywood, CA: Greenz, Nick, Ryan, Ish, Bublez, Crystal, Marquesha Babers "Kiki" and Mischa Editing: Michael Leoni and Erica Katzin Cinematography: Abigail Jane Elliott and Joseph Hendrickson Streaming on-demand: iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, Spectrum, Fandango NOW, Cox, Charter cable etc. Runtime: 104 minutes Trailer: Website: Instagram: @americanstreetkid Twitter: @AmericanStKid Facebook: @AmericanStreetKid