Five years ago, two women met on the campus of Northern Illinois University and agreed to join forces — one an accomplished documentary filmmaker, the other a prominent activist on the issue of homelessness.
Their plan: to film and produce a documentary on the little-known issue of homeless women and children.
Their path would later intersect with seven women willing to share their lives, and now their award-winning documentary, “on the edge,” has been selected for prestigious film festivals in Naperville and Sycamore later this month.
Directed by NIU Communication Professor Laura Vazquez and produced by activist Diane Nilan, “on the edge” will be screened at 8:20 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at Classic Cinemas Theatre 6, 1227 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville, as part of the fourth annual Naperville Independent Film Festival. Vazquez and Nilan will be available to answer audience questions following the film.
During the Sycamore Film Festival, “on the edge” will be screened at 9:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23; 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24; and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25. All of the screenings are at the Sycamore Theater, 420 W. State St.
Vazquez jumped at the opportunity to work with Nilan five years ago at the suggestion of a colleague who knows both women.
“My interest was both personal and professional,” Vazquez says. “The challenges many women face in experiencing poverty and homelessness remain a secret that hampers systemic solutions. And my personal experience years ago as a young mother with a baby needing to flee an abusive setting motivates me to be the instrument for these stories being publicly shared.”
The hour-long documentary reflects stories Nilan has heard over her past 25 years working with homeless adults and children as a shelter director and advocate. For the last six years she has traveled more than 126,000 mostly backroads miles giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth under the banner of her nonprofit organization, HEAR US Inc.
Nilan transformed into her unique role of filmmaker-activist because “every audience I address confirms the distorted stereotypes of homelessness — the bedraggled man with a bottle — unaware of the millions of families and unaccompanied youth on our streets. Filled with shame for their circumstances and fear of attracting attention of child welfare authorities, these families and youth remain invisible, which keeps our nation from addressing root causes of homelessness and poverty.”
“My Own Four Walls,” a 20-minute documentary featuring kids talking about their homelessness and what school means to them, was the first Nilan-Vazquez production. HEAR US sells these DVDs and other awareness-raising items to organizations and the public.
All those attending festival screenings of “on the edge” will receive a memento from HEAR US as a reminder to assist the population of families in Illinois and across the nation.