Q&A With Rotimi Rainwater, Director of Lost in America
Festival Coverage by Jessica Carr
On May 10th, Rotimi Rainwater’s documentary Lost in America premiered at the Nashville Film Festival. The documentary focuses on youth homelessness in America. It is a film that is near and dear to Rainwater’s heart because he was also homeless at one point in his life. In the film, Rainwater travels the country to shed some light on the epidemic of youth homelessness in America- highlighting issues like: human trafficking, the foster care system, youth rejected because of their sexuality, domestic violence, abuse and more. It also examines what many organizations, politicians and other public figures are doing (or not doing) to help these youths.
Cinematary's own Jessica Carr spoke with Rainwater about his film and why he thinks making this documentary was important.
Why was it important for you to make a documentary about youth homelessness in America?
I made a narrative feature about homeless youth called Sugar back in 2013, and I realized it wasn’t going to do anything to help these youths. We screened it for congress but not one member of congress showed up. However, most of the national homeless youth organizations did show up, and it was then that I learned not only how big the issue of youth homelessness was, but how little was being done to help these youths. I honestly felt like: if not me, then who? And if not now, then when? So that’s why I felt it was a karmic imperative that I make this film.
Did you feel a special connection with your film subjects because you've been where they are now?
I did feel a connection with these kids because I had been where they were. Now, to be clear, I never could compare my experience to what most of these youths had gone through, it pales in comparison. But what I could relate to was the rejection that all too often causes homelessness. My family turned their back on me when my mother was sick, and I ended up homeless, and I used to sleep in a park across the street from where my grandmother lived. I would often wonder if she thought about me or wondered where I was. When I would speak with the youth we would always find this as a common ground for us, this rejection we’d experience. Either from our family, or from those we encountered once on the streets.
What challenges did you face while making this film?
The first, and biggest challenge I faced was the fact that no one really wanted to fund a film like this. Because of that, I would borrow money; I’d skip a mortgage payment… I’d do anything I could to keep the production going. We ended up doing four crowd source funding campaigns to start this film off. We would raise money, go out and shoot for a few weeks, then go back at it. This also made it difficult to keep shooting. When you’re funded at the beginning, it takes a lot less time to make the film, but when you’re like us, it takes you five years.
Did you ever envision a life as a filmmaker for yourself?
I always knew I wanted to tell stories. I started doing school plays in 4th grade, and I actually wrote my first book in 4th grade as well. It was called “The Cattle Creatures”, and it was in my elementary school library for years after that. I wonder if it’s still there...
My family pushed me to give up on this dream, but after my mother passed, I knew it was something I needed to rededicate my life too. It felt like it was meant to be when I got my first job in the film business as a PA on Passenger 57.
What has it been like for you to be able to take this film to film festivals all over America?
I’ll have to answer that one in a few months. This was actually only the 2nd festival we’ve taken it too, but it was an incredible experience. And we’re hoping we get to continue this journey.
How can others shed light on this issue?
They can join us in standing up for these youths. In order to make a change, to truly make a change, we need to all stand together. People can go to www.lostinamericafilm.com or any social media under the same name. They can spread the word, and when we release the film, we will be doing events all over the country. Get involved, take a stand, make a change.
What is the course of action that would best help youths that are homeless?
Honestly, it’s to just stop and talk to them. You have to understand that these kids are rejected by everyone. They were rejected at home and ended up on the streets. They then went to a shelter or organization and most of these organizations are underfunded so they end up back on the streets. And then they go to their last resort which is to hold a sign and ask for help, but instead of helping, we walk by them like they don’t exist. We have to stop this cycle, we have to at least stop and talk to these youths. We need to remind them that they are still a part of the human race; they are not thrown away, and they are still loved. If not, we’ll keep losing 13 youth every day on the streets to murder, overdose, or more painfully; suicide.
You can find out more info on where you can view Lost in America by visiting their website.