'LOST IN AMERICA' Synopsis
Lost in America is a feature documentary that follows director Rotimi Rainwater, a former homeless youth, on his 6 year journey to shine a light on the issue of youth homelessness. This seminal documentary is the first film to take a national look at the issue of youth homelessness in America, highlighting the main issues that surround it: sex trafficking, the failure of the foster care system, and the rampant rejection of LGBTQ youth. It also examines what many organizations, politicians and other public figures are doing (or not doing) to help these youth in order to answer one major question; how, in the wealthiest country in the world, can 4.2 million youth experience homelessness every year. Featuring interviews with Jewel (executive producer), Rosario Dawson (executive producer), Tiffany Haddish, Miley Cyrus, Jon Bon Jovi, Halle Berry, Sanaa Lathan and others, this film gives an unflinching, honest look at what these youth have to endure just to survive, and why as a nation this is one epidemic we just don't want to see. More than a film, Lost in America is a movement. It started with one man's journey to finally face his own past on the streets, and has now become a clarion call to the entire country to stand up, and be a voice for the most vulnerable of youth. Because the goal for the entire team, and the film, has always been to make sure that no other child ever has to be... Lost in America.
FILMMAKER ROTIMI RAINWATER
It took me a very long time to be able to say those words. It’s a lot easier to make up stories about your childhood and your life than to admit that your mother fought a losing battle with depression and alcoholism, ending with her dying of cancer, and you on the streets. But that’s exactly what happened to me, and it’s the one experience that has affected me throughout my life.
My time on the streets was primarily spent hiding my homelessness from my mother because she was fighting her own battle against cancer. After my car was towed, I spent nights sleeping under the bridge at Lake Underhill where I used to go fishing with my best friend, Mike. But it was more than a decade later and most of my friends had left town, so I slept where I once played.
It’s been 28 years since I was on the streets, and 6 years ago I decided it was time to do something about it. I’d just made my first narrative film, Sugar, which was loosely based on my time on the streets, and after screening it for homeless youth organizations around the country, and even for Congress, I realized that my film wasn’t going to do anything to help these youth. The only thing that truly could help them was a documentary that tackled this issue and tried to shine a light on it.
I’ve spent the last 6 years on Lost in America and it has been the most eye opening experience of my life. At the beginning I realized that my own government had no clue what was going on with these youth. They’d estimated that the number of kids on the street was between 47,000 & 2.8M. What kind of figures are those? And there had never been a national count, or study on homeless youth. How could that be? How, in the wealthiest country in the world, could we have so many homeless youth, and be so clueless about it? So I interviewed 30 youth, in 15 different cities, as well as politicians and organizations around the country.
Everything about this journey has been unexpected. The lack of compassion in my own country towards these youth, or perhaps better, the lack of action to help these kids is one of the most shocking things I’ve discovered. But also, I never expected this film to be so cathartic. I’d spent over 20 years hiding the fact that I was homeless because there is a stigma that comes with it. But the more I had to share my story with these youth, the more it transported me back to the time when I was on the streets, and the more it helped me heal. The friendships I made with the youth, the brotherhood I found with my crew, helped me heal and become the man I am now. And in the midst of it all, I found love, and had my first child.
So if there’s anything that can come from this film, my story, our journey, maybe, I don’t know, maybe it’s hope. Hope that if this 47 year old man can heal, that maybe these youth, with our help, can heal. Perhaps, this film can inspire people to view these youth not as homeless youth, invisible and unwanted, but they can view these children as their children. And once we start realizing there is nothing wrong with these youth, just that people around them have failed them, then perhaps we can stop failing them. Anything is possible.
- Writer-Director-Producer Rotimi Rainwater
This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit calhum.org.
Learn more about OPAC's two-year-long programming series, Close to Home, addressing the people, places and perspectives surrounding homelessness in our community.