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Gere Makes Homelessness Visible in New Film

  • Penelope Poulou

Actor and activist Richard Gere and filmmaker Oren Moverman tackle homelessness in the film drama "Time Out of Mind." Gere offers a memorable performance as George, a homeless man who struggles to stay relevant in a society that does not acknowledge his existence.

George is an enigma. We learn nothing about his background that could explain or justify his current state of being. Instead, we follow him around in his day-to-day struggle for survival. Dressed in shabby clothing and with a botched haircut, Gere transforms himself into a wreck of a man.

Moverman had a lot of creative license for this film. He surrounds George with the loud noises from New York's frenetic environment. Moverman said these sounds are an assault on George's state of mind, minimizing his significance and reflecting his mental state.

Moverman said fighting homelessness and the prejudice against homeless people is a subject close to his heart, so he jumped at the opportunity to make an independent film on the subject with Gere.

“This was a movie that was going to call attention to a person you would ignore in real life,” he said.

They wanted to make the film as close to reality as possible. Gere posed as a homeless man in the middle of New York City so that the filmmaker could footage of a beggar ignored that was as realistic as possible. Moverman used long-distance lenses to shoot scenes in which a lone Gere, immersed in his character, panhandled at Grand Central Station. The results were startling.

During their hourlong shoot, no one recognized the movie star.

Invisible community

“No one was paying attention,” Gere marveled. “It was this feeling of invisibility. But that wasn’t really the depth of the experience. The experience was in fact more like a black hole — that people did notice me but they didn’t want to get close. And not just physically close, they did not want to get emotionally close.”

In character as a beggar, he decided to get in people’s faces. He said he was looking them straight in the eye, and no one was engaging him.

They noticed the clothes he was wearing, not who he really was.

Gere said being homeless makes a person question his very existence, because that existence isn't acknowledged by anyone else.

"Time Out of Mind" shows how, slowly and imperceptibly, one can end up homeless; alcohol addiction, depression or loss of a job can be enough to turn an ordinary person into one who lives on the margins of society. The film also reveals a world of shelters driven by bureaucracy yet filled with compassionate social workers.

During his interview with VOA, Gere said homelessness is a worldwide phenomenon caused not only by social conditions but also by political crises. He said he hoped the film would help galvanize support for displaced people the world over.

“This relates to me, what’s going on in the world now,” he said. “All the displaced people and refugees that we’re seeing in Europe and the tension of these millions of displaced people looking for home. ‘Where is my home now? My home is gone.' ”

Moverman offered a positive note, though. He said that during filming, he met a lot of administrators and volunteers who work tirelessly to end homelessness. They will still be on the job after the film credits roll.

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