By: Denishea Bright
In the film Homeskillet, the main character, Maggie, and her teenage daughter volunteer to help the homeless. This experience will soon change Maggie’s life forever, leading her to do a protest fast. She makes it her goal to enlighten everyone who will listen on the detrimental but often ignored issue of homelessness.
Born and raised in New York, Phiamma Elias describes her earliest childhood memories of being curious, mostly about why there are people sleeping and living on streets. She went on to become an actress and director, working in countless theatre productions all over the country. Her film work includes the 2014 film Unthinkable: An Airline Captain’s Story, 2010’s Prognosis, and as the character Maggie in Homeskillet. She became an Artistic Director for The VisionArt Theater in Venice Beach, CA, while there she received 12 Dramalogue Awards for her outstanding work.
“I’m not perfect. I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had my lessons and I’m sure there are more to come. But I just feel like really, what are you putting out there? What are you creating? Because that’s what comes back to you.” –Phiamma Elias
In 2010, she thought she’d explore the main topic that has bothered her since she was a little girl and she sat down for the first time to write Homeskillet.
The word “homeskillet” is derived from a slang term of endearment used by her youngest son when he referred to her, meaning to take care of the people in your neighborhoods and homes. Today, Elias wants to create a movement of conversation about this worldwide issue. She encourages everyone to help by starting in their own backyards, in their own “homeskillets”.
The film was written and directed by Elias. Elias also produced the film along with James Stites, Sofia Elias Jamison, and Robert Cseko.
Today this film will premiere for the first time in Portland, but will be shown later this month on the Oregon Public Broadcasting Channel and PBS.
DB(BrightGirlWrites): So I think we all know how one can become homeless, but still I wonder “How does one become homeless?” So many questions enter my head. Do you know what I mean?
Phiamma Elias: Well I think there are a lot of myths about homelessness. And that was part of the intention of the film to create a dialogue, a national dialogue because there are so many myths. And yes there are those who are addicted or have mental health issues and they just don’t have the capabilities and so they’re homeless for certain. Especially because in the 1980s they closed all of the social service mental health facilities. They shut them down and basically threw everyone onto the street. So that’s what happened in the 80’s and that’s where that population comes from, but the myth is that, that’s only who it is and it’s not. It is the fastest growing population in our country, even bigger than immigration.
There are an estimate of 1.5 million people on the street every night or in cars. And they’re the people who we would have previously called our lower class, or blue-collar, or just the people who have just been “making it” in this country, who have no help anymore. They are literally one pay check away so if anything happens. They lose their jobs. They get sick. Their car gets destroyed. Anything. Within 30 to 60 days they can be out on the street. And most of these families have children. And the child population of homelessness is unbelievably growing so fast. Its frightening. So those of us who have families, community, resources, homes, jobs, and purpose we are so lucky and blessed. It’s hard for us to fathom being without those things but, for a lot of these people they really do not have that network, those resources that will help them get over the hump. They’re on their own.
And that’s why we started 4WALLSNAROOF, which is the petition through Moveon.org that we launched this week. That is a petition that we are going to send into congress that makes it a fundamental right, an inalienable right, that every American citizen have shelter. Just a right, we want to add it as a right. And the reasoning behind it is that all over our country No Tent Laws are popping up left and right. So if a family is in their car…Or stuck out on the street… Or somewhere and its pouring, snowing, or raining they can not put a tent over their head. And so we just want to make it a right that no matter where you are, if you’re an American citizen in this country and you’re in inclement weather and you’re trying to make you and your family safe you can put something over your head. Now you can’t live their indefinitely. The governments and the cities have the right to say “you can’t do it here. Or it’s not safe.” You know there are rules that can be established but, that’s all voting. But you can’t tell someone whether its 105 degrees and they just need shade or whether its pouring rain and they just need something to keep themselves dry. You cant arrest them for putting a tent up. So that’s what 4WALLSNAROOF is about.
DB(BrightGirlWrites): I read that your production team fed 200 homeless people during filming.
Phiamma Elias: We did! We fed over 200 homeless people. We shot in 3 different shelters. And we’re continuing to do that through the film. The premiere is Thursday, 4 days from today, and 100 percent of the profits are going to a local family shelter. So we’re committed to taking the movie in what ever way it presents itself. And we ideally want to take it through the country and support local shelters wherever we go.
DB(BrightGirlWrites): Like you said the film will be premiering this Thursday at the Portland Art Museum. What do you hope that people will take away from this film?
Phiamma Elias: We hope that they’ll be inspired to feel empowered that they can make a difference. And we’re giving them several ways, actual ways that they can do that. They can share the story, they can share the film, they can do their own screenings in their own homes, and have people bring food for their local food banks. They can sign up for the 4WALLSNAROOF petition and share that. Everyone’s going to go home with a to do list of what they’re able to do out of that experience and we’re calling this whole plan to bring this dialogue to the forefront. Right now at this time, we’re saying that winter is coming. And it is! And that’s the point it’s that all of the food banks are going to need to be supplied. We really want to create the dialogue and that’s what people can do. So we hope that the movie can first of all, entertain because as a filmmaker my number one priority it to make a good film that entertains. You know that’s number one. And then number two, is that it not only entertains but, educates and inspires in someway.
Elias is currently shooting a reality tv show about street musicians called Music Project and she’s also in pre-production for her next film, a rock musical loosely based on Romeo and Juliet.
Keep up with Phiamma on her blog at http://www.phiamma.com/ and sign up for the 4WALLSNAROOF Petition here: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/4wallsnaroof-shelter
Where: North West Film Center- Whitsell Auditorium
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205
When: Thursday October 9th @ 7pm
For more info, please visit: http://www.nwfilm.org/screenings/58/609/#3479