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March 29, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
You have probably seen the stories in the news, lately: the homeless 8-year-old chess champion, or the formerly homeless teen accepted into 17 colleges. These inspiring tales of triumph over adversity warm the heart, but do we think enough about what these children’s lives were like before their big wins? With his new film, Princess of the Row, that is what writer-director Max Carlson wants all of us to do.
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles,” he says, “and have seen, firsthand, the amount of people experiencing homelessness grow over the years.” Although the film is set in Skid Row, a 54-block area of downtown L.A. that, for decades, has been synonymous with poverty and homelessness, Carlson has watched the current epidemic spill out from there and spread. He and his writing partner, A. Shawn Austin, drew in elements from their own lives--Austin exploring father-daughter bonds, and Carlson meditating on his veteran grandfather’s struggles with dementia--to craft a deeply personal tale of a young girl fighting to stay connected to her father.
“Stories like Alicia’s are not uncommon,” he reveals. “There are many foster youth whose parents are homeless, many of which live on Skid Row.”
In fact, many members of the supporting cast and crew had struggled firsthand with homelessness. Many of the extras in the film were played by actual homeless veterans, and one of the soundtrack singers had been repeatedly visited by her own daughter, in much the way Alicia visits her father, during her own eight years on the streets.
Carlson could have approached the story from a documentarian’s perspective--his 2011 film, Bhopali, explored the lingering aftermath of the world’s worst environmental disaster and won eight prestigious awards--but in this case, he felt that a narrative film might work better to bring the audience into Alicia’s world, and into the world of the thousands of real Alicias out there.
“I find the stories that interest me are ones that have powerful emotions and ideas behind them,” he explains. “I’m happy to create things that are purely for entertainment’s sake,”–and, in fact, his blockbuster trailers have earned him Clio, Promax, and Golden Trailer Awards–“but stories that are meaningful are my primary interest.”
With “Princess of the Row,” Carlson hopes to help us see the world through Alicia’s eyes, and feel what it would be like to be her. “It’s incumbent on all of us to recognize that homeless people are human beings who have struggled with more harsh circumstances than most, and now they literally have no homes, and often very little support,” he says. Prior screening attendees have come away with a new way of looking at the issue, and that’s what he wants most of all.
“I hope the film can make people think twice the next time they pass a homeless person on the street, because you never know what their story may be.”
– Lara Klaber
PHOTO: Max Carlson is a writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and a musician, but above all else, he is a storyteller who wants to help people see the world with new eyes.
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