Filmmaker, writer, folklorist and photographer Alan Govenar is the president of Documentary Arts. Govenar attended Ohio State University, the University of Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas for his B.A., M.A. and his Ph.D., respectively. Govenar is the author of over 20 books, 11 films and known for his founding of the Texas African Photography Archive and his musical “Blind Lemon Blues.” This week, I talk with Govenar about his experience with the homeless and how homeless stereotypes are busted.
“Serving Second Chances” follows the story of three individuals, Gerald Williams, Alisa Flores and Veiletta Dickens Rogers as they live their lives as homeless or at risk. Filmed over the span of two and a half years, Govenar tells stories of people living in Dallas as they try to begin new lives for themselves through the efforts of The Stewpot, a services building for the homeless.
- Tune into “Frame of Mind” at 11 tonight on KERA-TV.
- Alan Govenar is Krys Boyd’s guest on “Think” on KERA FM at 1 this afternoon.
On his inspiration for “Serving Second Chances…”
When I saw the extent to which the services of the Stewpot were so far reaching, I wanted to know more. As I became involved in the work I was doing with what was then called the 508 Park Project Committee, I met Bruce Buchanan, who’s been director of the Stewpot for more than 25 years. I was very impressed about what Bruce and his staff were able to accomplish. I started the film through other work that I was doing with the 508 Part Project Committee. I proposed the idea of doing a museum of street culture because I wanted to create something that bridged both sides of the street. I began to get to know some of the clients at the Stewpot. There were three individuals that I focused in the film, who I followed for about two and a half years.
On his experience of filming the individuals…
Each time I filmed one of these individuals, I never knew if there was going to be a next time, given the uncertainties of life on the street or life of an at risk person. I couldn’t really plan the next meeting. One of the individuals, Gerald Williams, I met through a Robert Johnson sound-alike contest that Bruce had organized at the Stewpot. At the time that I interviewed him, it had been clear that Gerald was a performer. He told me he slept on a bench at night in front of City Hall. He showed me the bench and I asked him if I could come in the middle of the night and film him there, but he explained that he was there between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. because it’s between the police patrols. The next time I filmed him, I didn’t really know when that would be.
On his preconceived ideas of the homeless…
Homelessness is a major problem in the United States today. I was certainly aware of the complexities of life on the streets. People are homeless for so many different reasons. I can’t say that I understood them all, but I always had the sense that not all homeless people you interact with are the same. From making the movie, I learned more; I began to understand the dilemma of homelessness, how people teetered on the brink of homelessness and how different factors could affect whether or not they became homeless.
On whether or not he had expectations for the storylines…
One of the three people that I focused on, Veiletta, she was not technically homeless, but more at risk. She was someone who had been followed home and stalked when she was 18 years old and raped by someone with AIDS. By age 18, she was HIV positive. This threw her into a downward spiral; she said she locked herself in the house for 10 years. It was through the Open Art Program at the Stewpot that she was able to start having a life again. She started doing painting there and participating in their activities and that’s what helped her. What I hope the movie does is to undermine and bust up some of the stereotypes that people have about homeless individuals.
His words to those that stereotype the homeless…
I think they should go to the Stewpot and see what’s being done to help the homeless and understand the idea of what it means to be homeless. I know that when I find myself in Dallas and someone is looking for help, I say to them, “Have you heard of the Stewpot? Go there. The people there can help you.” It’s not about panhandling, it’s about getting a second chance in life. The movie is about people who are trying to transform their lives. What I often the describe the movie as now is an unlikely story of unexpected opportunities. In adversity, there are opportunities.