Paradise is a 53-minute documentary that depicts the lives of the
men and women who lived in the ten-year-old Albany Landfill community
prior to their eviction. It follows them through the eviction and
documents them one month after the eviction. The film emphasizes
their concepts of community as well as the amazing art that they
of being a documentary about homelessness, Bums' Paradise considers
the question: What if the homeless -- the indigent, the bums --
told their own stories?
is exactly what filmmakers Tomas McCabe and Andrei Rozen set out
to explore with the Albany Landfill residents. Both McCabe and Rozen
shot for five months. Landfill resident Robert "Rabbit" Barringer
was also given a camera to film life as he experienced it as a resident
on the Landfill. What unfolds is a rich and complex story showing
the full spectrum of human experience. We see segments on love,
family, home, politics, community, art, insanity, and addiction:
Paula and Chris are a couple -- Sparky paints pictures on broken
pieces of concrete -- Rabbit talks about social egalitarianism and
Marxism. Ashby talks about his experiences with the police; "Mad"
Mark talks about a gas or liquid drug that induces hypnosis. Jean
Paul reveals his shattering thoughts facing jail time versus being
wants to go to jail. But I'd rather go to jail for something I believe
in, like my right to exist . . . somewhere."
see these and other issues approached from the outside as well as
the inside, because Landfill residents themselves reveal them to
us. In other segments on survival mechanisms, dysfunctional behavior,
and creative endeavors, we see the lifestyle they have created together
and the codes of protocol they live by. These include practicalities
such as not losing the lids to water bottles and sophisticated ideas
such as community meetings to discuss problems. We see the amazing
amount of creativity found among the residents because they "are
allowed to live free of public scorn and scrutiny and the daily
harassment of police." (Robert Barringer)
opening scenes of the documentary show the natural beauty and tranquility
of the Landfill and establish a sense of place. Here, we first encounter
Rabbit as he describes his views of the Landfill:
"This Landfill stands as a brooding monument to obsolescence. What
could be a more appropriate refuge for America's unused people?
Here, they can be hidden away from a society which regards them
as a nuisance and an eyesore."
the combination of McCabe, Rozen, and Rabbit's footage, Bums' Paradise
reveals to us the lives of the people living there. It also invites
us to get to know several permanent Landfill residents such as "Mad"
Mark, whose nighttime endeavors lead to the creation of an enchanting
fairy castle, a two-story structure complete with steel-reinforced
cement floors, a pointed-arch window, battlements, and a spiral
stair, built completely from pieces of discarded concrete slabs.
We meet Jimbow the Hobow, who writes moving poetry that cries out
to a society that has tossed him aside and Paula, who has penetrated
to the heart of what it means to live on the Landfill:
"The kindness that comes from nothing or someone who has next to
nothing, but who will give till they can't give no more of their
time or their food or their last 35 cents."
there is Rabbit himself, whose sophisticated drawings, eloquence,
and college education are a metaphor for the short distance between
us and a life on the Landfill -- he stands as a bridge, showing
each of us how fate alone separates us from a life on the streets.
we get drawn into the lives of the residents, the handling of their
eviction directly affects the emotions of the viewer. Watching Dave,
a Landfill resident, worrying about what will happen to his puppies
more than what will happen to him while being photographed and numbered
by the police for his formal eviction papers, tears at the viewer's
obvious distress of the residents and the hopeless red-tape quagmire
witnessed in the City of Albany Council Chambers are brutal to witness.
We know the residents now -- they're not just faceless panhandlers.
Bums' Paradise is a poignant reminder of what we lose when we lose
the human face of homelessness.
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