Assignment: Watch “Sidewalk” by Barry Alexander Brown and post a reflection on it
Sidewalk is a documentary about the lives of the homeless in New York City and how they make a living out of scavenging and selling books and magazines and the hardships that come with living on the streets. Directed by Barry Alexander Brown, this documentary is based on the book, Sidewalk (1999), which was written by sociologist, Mitchell Duneier. Through ethnographic means where the filmmaker and the book writer followed and studied the subjects for almost a decadeIt gives us an insight into the daily routines of the primarily black homeless community who carry out their trade along 6th avenue between Washington square park and 8th street. Through the main use of interviews, they operate under the principle that ‘talk is cheap’ where everyone’s definition of a situation differs and hence they observe and document people’s behaviour and compare it to what they say and what they don’t. To be able to empathise with the subjects, an understanding of their social and economic contexts is crucial – they have no money and hence no place to live, most of them are convicted felons and hence have almost no job opportunities outside of being street vendors and scavengers, they’re plagued by their history of drug abuse – and the documentary builds this empathy by focuses on these aspects from their point of view. The sidewalk becomes the setting for this entire documentary to show how their life unfolds on the edge of society, and these sidewalks remain their only support. On these sidewalks they re-invent themselves, they find purpose, they find their family, they feed themselves, they rest their head. These sidewalks also become the setting for their conflict with the local residents and the government as many also see them as an inconvenience to the city. This documentary raises a lot of questions for the viewer; for example they question the ethics and morality behind their career choices by giving both sides of the argument – the homeless people and the locals – how does their presence shape the city and its workings, what impact do they have on our daily lives, to what extent can they overcome their circumstance and build a better life for themselves? This documentary raises important social-economic concerns like poverty, homelessness, race, unfair laws, underground economies, drug abuse, community support systems, and how all of these interact with each other.