New documentary focuses on homeless in Auburn, Northern California

Auburn filmmaker turns lens on seldom-told stories of life on the streets
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - When Ryan Frew’s plans to film his screenplay fell through after the lead actor bailed out, he turned his camera on the real thing. Instead of a fictional account of the homeless, the 23-year-old Auburn resident began combing the vacant lots and vagrant camps pockmarked throughout the area looking for stories that only the homeless could tell. Two years later, that filmmaking journey from the foothills to Sacramento and the Bay Area, will be debuted in a screening April 14 at the State Theater in Downtown Auburn. Titled “Life Is Mandatory,” Frew’s hour-long film provides a rare glimpse into the day-to-day existence of the homeless. Frew is a Sierra College student aiming for a film school slot in Southern California. He said that he’s taken pretty much every film course at Sierra College and wants to continue with a career that he’s been gaining experience in as a screenwriter and, with the documentary, a variety of movie-making roles that includes producer, director and camera operator. But Frew is also an Auburn resident who grew up in the community, graduated from Placer High and sees the homeless on a near-daily basis. Some of the homeless people in “Life Is Mandatory” offer few surprises, living the way they do because they say they choose to. “Others, you wonder why they do it,” Frew said. “Some want the life they lead. Others don’t want the life. Some are schizophrenic. Others are just having a string of bad luck. There is no one answer. You can’t generalize.” There will be two screenings – at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., with admission in the form of either $5 or a donation of equal value in non-perishable food. Along the way, Frew was assisted in interview by Brian Williams. “I had a lot of different friends help out, working with me between work schedules,” Frew said. The filming took Frew and friends into areas that could have been dangerous. But he reports no threats or violence. “At times, I felt I had to be careful,” Frew said. “When a girl went with me, I made sure she had pepper spray.” Frew went into the “Life Is Mandatory” project starting in late 2010 with no pre-conceptions. “When I started I had no real opinions,” Frew said. “But I had a lot of questions. Curiosity brought me into it.” Now he’s made a film that he’s hoping people in his age group as well as others will watch and perhaps learn from. “It’s aimed at young people, particularly students,” Frew said. “I wanted it raw. But it also should give people some things to think about when they come to make choices about getting more education and their futures.” Auburn attorney Bob Litchfield, who has seen the film’s rough cut, said Frew will be giving viewers an uncompromising look at the homeless – a viewpoint he respects. “It’s a view of homeless people from a perspective of a young man – and not one necessarily that an older person would take,” Litchfield said. The screening is the latest local film to be shown at the State Theater. Janis Wikoff, theater executive director, said screening Placer County-produced cinema is part of the mission of the non-profit Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center group. “This is yet another valuable example of why an active theater Downtown is so valuable,” Wikoff said.