For all the hype about the blossoming of Downtown LA, it can be easy to forget that the area is still ground zero for one of the most concentrated homeless populations in the nation.
Just a few blocks away from trendy Little Tokyo or the hipster enclave in the Arts District is Skid Row, home to thousands of homeless people -- some struggling with mental illness or drug addiction.
The homeless crisis can seem too big to comprehend, which is why director Thomas Napper sought to humanize LA's massive homeless population in a documentary called "Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home." The 75-minute documentary is borne out of the work Napper did on "The Soloist," a 2009 film starring Jamie Foxx about a Juilliard-trained homeless musician.
"Lost Angels" documents the lives of eight homeless people, some of who were hired to appear as extras in "The Soloist." Napper uses their stories to take a critical stance on issues like gentrification, the mental health safety net (or lack thereof) and the LAPD's implementation of the controversial Safer Cities Initiative. The film also highlights the Skid Row organizations that are struggling to serve thousands of homeless with ever-shrinking budgets.
Take, for example, Danny Harris' story. When he was just 18 years old, he won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics for the 400 meter hurdles. But a drug addiction made Harris spiral out of control, and he found himself homeless on Skid Row. The Midnight Mission helped him get clean, and he was able to finish his college degree and find a job as an assistant athletics coach at Iowa State University.
To see some initial reaction to the film, check out Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez's Wednesday story. He writes that "Lost Angels" "has an edge, particularly in going after the city's emphasis on a police response to a human catastrophe." Activist and writer Linda Milazzo also compared depictions of the homeless in "Lost Angels" and "The Soloist" in a blog for the Huffington Post.
"Lost Angels" opens at the Hollywood Arclight Friday, and filmmakers and some of the people featured in the film will appear for a Q&A event after 7:10 p.m. screenings on Friday and Saturday.