NIU filmmaker earns congressional audience

NIU communication professor Laura Vazquez this week will screen her award-winning documentary on homelessness, titled “on the edge,” before an audience that will include members of Congress.

Diane Nilan and Laura Vazquez
Diane Nilan and Laura Vazquez

Vazquez spent four years working with Diane Nilan, a nationally known advocate for the homeless, to tell the stories of seven women and their children struggling to find permanent housing.

After attending the premiere screening in Naperville last October, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert invited the filmmakers to screen the documentary in Washington, D.C.

Biggert chairs the subcommittee that oversees HUD policies and serves as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness. She sent out a letter inviting colleagues and members of their staffs to a private screening of the one-hour documentary Wednesday evening.

“When you make a film like this, your goal is to affect awareness and policy so that the lives of people like those in your film might improve,” Vazquez says. “Rep. Biggert has invited many policy makers to this screening. So perhaps this is our chance to make a difference in the lives of women and children in America who struggle with poverty and eventual homelessness.”

A clip from the film also will be shown earlier in the day during a congressional briefing to explore issues pertaining to homeless children, youth and families.

“‘On the edge’ speaks truth to those who don’t understand homelessness, including our members of Congress,” says Nilan, who has spent 25 years advocating for the homeless and founded the non-profit Hear Us, a Naperville-based organization that aims to raise awareness.

“You can’t hear these seven amazing women speak about their experiences and not be profoundly moved to want to help,” she adds.

“On the Edge” has already received critical acclaim. Vazquez and Nilan will travel to Las Vegas next month to receive the Best of Festival award for documentaries during the 2011 Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) Festival of Media Arts.

Locally, the film also will be screened as an official selection of the upcoming Geneva Film Festival (April 14-17).

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