By Cathy Small, Ph.D.
THE MAN IN THE DOG PARK FILM
The 14-minute animated film is adapted from my co-authored book “The Man in the Dog Park.” As a first-time screenwriter, I struggled with how to address the many sides and faces of the homelessness issue in a way that was relevant to the public conversation and also true to the experiences of people I met and interviewed who were experiencing homelessness.
In this documentary short, you will see how we answered this question with two choices: to focus on “stigma” and to animate the stories. The choice of stigma turns the lens of the film, not on homelessness, but on ourselves, and the attitudes that shape the daily experiences of those without homes, as well as the larger policies that affect their lives.
The second choice—to animate—comes, as bizarre as this may seem, from a wish to stay authentic by sharing directly the words and encounters of people I had interviewed for the book over a period of seven years. To present these same stories via actors was possible but seemed a step less true. To ask the actual individuals involved to “re-enact” past painful scenes in their lives was both logistically problematic and personally insensitive.
So, we chose animation, with the caveat that the voices of those animated characters were people currently experiencing homelessness. The “voice actors” in the film, many of whom came from the local homeless shelter, often chose “parts” that spoke to their experience.
Although actors were paid, it was clear that they were also invested and proud to be contributing to the public education agenda. As one participant said, “It’s important that they know how we feel.” Shelter residents built their own sound studio from their mattresses and blankets so that voice performers could be recorded with studio-quality sound.