Last night, our YWAM Modesto team went to see the local premiere of the documentary film "The Nine." This has been a much anticipated release as its subject matter is the South 9th Street community of our city. Photographer Katy Grannan and her team have made a beautifully shot, shocking glimpse into life around and under the 9th Street bridge in Modesto.
A friend texted me this morning asking me what it was like. Here is my short response..."Profoundly sad, very well done, uncomfortable, beautiful and terrible all at the same time. A very vulnerable film. Not much commentary, just an observation of an addicted prostitute's life on 9th Street."
Those words, "addicted" and "prostitute," are not the only words that define the films principle subject,"Kiki." She is also kind, hopeful, despairing, sad, lonely and beautiful. Grannan lets us see complex people in difficult situations without a lot of heavy handed narrative. This is a film shot by a photographer. There are long stretches of stillness that are poinagnt and uncomfortable.
When I heard someone was making a documentary about South 9th Street, where we host our twice weekly Ninth Street Café, I was hesitant. Who is this film maker? Are they going to exploit people's brokenness? Are they going to romanticize "the poor?"
This film was made because the film maker engaged in friendships with a few on S. 9th Street while working on a photography project. She cares about them and told their story with humility. Humility isn't always easy. It can be defined as "an honest evaluation of the way things are" and that's what this movie strives to do.
There are moments that come across as set up. There are scenes that could be trimmed. Some of it seems to go on too long. There are times when I felt like Kiki was too vulnerable, an intimacy not meant for me. But mostly, it gives dignity to the suffering people of 9th Street by showing their real lives.
I was glad to hear Grannan say that this was not a story about Modesto, it is a story about America, an America that is often hidden and ignored.
There were a few ill informed questions at the Q & A for which the producers, Kiki and a few others pictured were present at the end of the evening. A few good questions too. But all of those interactions were made beautiful by Kiki herself and the obvious love there between her and Ms. Grannan.
This is not an exposé on "the homeless problem" or "the poor." This is a movie about real people. People we've shared coffee and bread with. We watched the movie with those real people in the room with us. They went home that night back to their lives that we had just witnessed. It was full of raw vulnerability and forced our community to take a hard look at a way of life only blocks away that most of us would just as soon ignore.
There is another local showing of this movie at the State Theater on Tuesday, March 14 (you can find more info and watch the trailer here... http://www.thestate.org/calendar/event/860). If you see it, you should know that it is hard to watch. It is unrated but if it were, it'd be rated R.