Writer: George Wilcox
Director: Marc Zammit
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Despite all the technology available it is still as difficult as ever to get films made and distributed, so much so that actor and director Marc Zammit turned to crowd-funding to realise his passion project which has its UK premiere at London’s Raindance Festival on 23 September. Homeless Ashes is a tale of domestic violence and long-term homelessness filmed with an intriguing directorial approach that is full of references across television and film.
As a child, Frankie lives in fear of his father’s unreasonable rages and frequently witnesses attacks on his beloved mother. When he dramatically takes matters into his own hands, Frankie must flee and spends the next 10 years living on the streets where he amasses a community of friends, as well as a few enemies. After a decade apart, he bumps into a childhood friend, the troubled Nicole, and by confronting the past, Frankie faces his future.
Zammit has created an independent movie that both uses and bypasses conventional storytelling. A domestic plot frames the story, giving the overarching narrative a starting point and destination, but Zammit fills-in the rest with short scenes of life on the streets that create texture as the director seeks to highlight the humanity of people most of us ignore every day.
And Homeless Ashes certainly achieves its mission to reveal the multiple stories and sometimes brutal experiences of those living in makeshift shelters in doorways, corners and anywhere they can find to safely sleep. Zammit’s approach to direction is what sets the film apart, and, as well as suggesting a sense of warmth within the various communities with which Frankie engages, he also finds both tension and drama in some of the more shockingly violent scenes.
With an interesting use of slow-motion and fade-out, Zammit increases the pressure by using intense facial close-ups of the actors to suggest the brutality of events the audience barely sees except through these tough reaction shots. But some of the storyline decisions are less satisfactory and having created a domestic violence scenario – which Angela Dixon delivers with some pathos – the plot abandons the perspective of Frankie’s mother entirely and doesn’t explore the duel impact of the assault quickly followed by the loss of her son.
Likewise, an unexpected rape scene occurs some way into the film, an event that has no build-up, but is never referred to again, denying the audience the chance to explore the physical and psychological consequences for someone unable to seek help. Similar leaps reveal the film’s male perspective on fear is quite different to a woman’s as Nicole walks undeterred through a run-down shopping centre at night and Frankie dances with a woman on a deserted riverbank in the dark – places no woman would ever feel entirely at ease.
The point of course is that Frankie is good person and such fears are misplaced, and while Wilcox’s dialogue tends towards the cheesy there are committed performances from Jamey May as Nicole who finds solace with her old friend and his new life, Lew Temple as Frankie’s closest friend and father figure looking to outrun the pain of his own past, and from Zammit as a kind young man clinging to an essential goodness no matter what life throws at him.
Homeless Ashes is a promising debut from a filmmaker with a lot to say about the experience of homelessness and its various causes. It also suggests that for someone with Zammit’s determination to tell a particular story, there are ways to realise that vision; it will be interesting to see what he does next.
Release Date: 23 September 2019 | Image: Contributed