There is a fellowship that comes from filming a movie together. In my experience, there is a bonding that takes place between subject and crew, the filmer and the one(s) being filmed. This is uniquely true when filming a documentary. A certain form of voyeurism seems to give way to friendship. Some directors work hard to avoid forming a meaningful relationship with their subjects. They work to limit their personal interactions with the “subject matter” in order to remain an allegedly, “impartial” observer. But is such ever really possible in life or in filmmaking? Inevitably, our perception of others is informed by our own perspectives in relationship to the “subjects” around us. This certainly proved to be the case for me when filming the Joe’s Place documentary almost ten years ago.
As I filmed, I found myself drawn into the stories of these young men. I saw the difficulties of their circumstances. I sat in their homes they had been forced to abandon. But, more importantly, I witnessed firsthand the work of hope taking place in their lives. Joe’s Place, provided a home to learn about life in a more normal context. Here was a place where they could learn what it means to grow into a man. They now faced the ordinary challenges of a teen (homework, girls and sports) instead of the extraordinary obstacles they normally encountered (drugs, abandonment, abuse, neglect). Here, they were given the freedom to simply live–to laugh with one another, make mistakes, and learn from those who were a little further down the road of life.
As I watched, interviewed and filmed; I saw the power found in this simplicity. This house was their home. It was the place of welcoming they had longed for and missed. Without realizing what they had been needing, they discovered something that addressed basic needs and even deeper wants. I watched as the boys oriented themselves around a compass firmly established in the center of that place by two loving guardians and helpers – Dan and Alyssa Reeves. And as I watched them pour out their love to Fred, Jeff, Steven and Ty’re, I began to love them as well. These were no longer subjects in my viewfinder. They were young men caught in the midst of difficult lives they had not chosen–and would not if given the choice.
And now, over nine years later, I’m reconnecting with some of these young men and I see where they have grown. I see how they are working their way through the world in the best way they know how. Some still struggle and some are finding success. But one thing remains true: their lives still remain forever changed. They are deeply affected by the love they felt. And they carry with them a sense of hope. They look back at their time with the Reeve’s and don’t see parental figures who changed their lives–they see lifelong friends. And now this work continues on with the Mapps.
There are new stories being written at Joe’s Place every day. And while the cameras are no longer rolling on Oakland Avenue, the bonding continues. The “family” carries on, regardless of whether or not their struggles and triumphs are being captured on film. This bonding is greater than that of a film crew with its subject matter. This bonding is of a family. A family that continues to grow and whose chains will never break apart. This is the family of Joe’s Place.