Tent City in Lakewood. The Movie Documentary ‘Destiny’s Bridge.’ A Movie Review and Personal Journey to Involvement. Premiere August 7th at Two River Theatre in Red Bank By Calvin Schwartz August 1st 2013
Right off the top of my frontal lobe, I need to say that this amazing documentary by filmmaker Jack Ballo, ‘Destiny’s Bridge,’ where he spent a year of his life recording the lives of the homeless in Lakewood, is having its world premiere at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey on August 7th.
Journeys to sensitivity and understanding sometimes begin innocently with little fanfare and symphonies. On Easter Sunday 2012, I attended a concert of awareness for the people of Tent City in Lakewood passionately put together by Rosemary Conte. With my son, we filmed the event for NJ Discover. I had no concept of what Tent City was and the fact that around 100 humans were living in tents for years without electricity, heat or basic amenities because Ocean County has no shelters for the homeless. Tent City was 24 minutes from where I’ve lived for 24 years but that didn’t register in my frontal lobe. While listening to the music close to the staging area, a bus of Tent City residents arrived at the far end of the plaza for food and clothing donations. Minister Stephen Brigham brought the tent residents in his yellow school bus; that scene was still far away from me in several ways. I stayed with my son but saw people holding empty plates waiting on a food line. An image of President Herbert Hoover’s Great Depression flashed across my unsympathetic retina. Close to the musicians I remained. It seemed the thing to do. When I got home that night, I forgot about the hungry homeless and talked to my family about the special Jersey musicians I heard for the first time.
Cut to January. Hurricane Sandy relief concerts were happening all over the Garden State. My past written words of support and admiration for Rosemary Conte and her wondrous musical and life contributions caught up to her; we became friends. She invited me to cover a Sandy benefit concert at McCloone’s in Asbury Park for NJ Discover. I interviewed her and then came an introduction to Sherry Rubel, concert organizer, photographer extraordinaire and Tent City activist.
Now it’s February. I’m at a place for coffee and conversation on a busy highway in East Brunswick, N.J with Sherry Rubel. Two weeks later on a very cold sunny day, Tara-Jean Vitale (NJ Discover producer) and I met Sherry across the street from the entrance to Tent City in Lakewood. We were packing TV cameras and microphones for our day in a new world. Patches of pure white snow from the night before looked like special effects. The dirt road was frozen; so was I emotionally. A thin veil of disbelief at my surroundings settled subtly around me. It was numbing; humans in the second richest state in America existing like this. Then I met Angelo, an endearing eloquent resident who invited me into his tent, briefly excusing himself, while I stood immobile and incredulous on how cold it was in the tent. He went outside to chop wood for the wood burning stove which was not warming the tent well. His bed was made perfectly. At that moment, in such brutal cold, where humans sleep and exist in the Lakewood winter, I thought about never being quite the same again. And I’m not. Something inside me aches (a soul?) from being overwhelmed. An hour later we interviewed Minister Stephen Brigham, a twelfth generation American. Illuminating and inspiring to us, he’s been devoting much of an adult lifetime to the cause of ‘Destiny’s Bridge;’ a journey to finding suitable and dignified housing in a self-sustainable community of homeless humans. I like using the term ‘humans.’
It’s not within the scope of this article to do self-intestinal excavation and journalizing my time at Tent City. But a few months later, I was back there with filmmaker Jack Ballo and had a chance to meet residents and talk and listen. Uncovering his wealth of character and poignancy, I met Michael, a long time Tent City resident with his wife Marilyn. He was able to bring a piano from his home before it was lost and kept it under a tarp like on a baseball field in a rainstorm. He played Beethoven and Procul Harum, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ for me. Enamored and drawn to his depth and warmth, I drifted far away standing close to Michael; I was still numb from months earlier at Tent City. It was cloudy and mild this day; easier for Michael and all the residents to sleep at night. But it is all hard; a very hard rain. I need to yell; maybe it will help me understand how and why in 2013 here in New Jersey this exists. Everything I saw that day after listening to Michael play the piano was visually a whiter shade of pale; hard to explain; perhaps a perfect segue to review the documentary, ‘Destiny’s Bridge.’
REVIEW: DESTINY’S BRIDGE
I’m not a Siskel or Ebert. On the other hand, I have evolved over my tech noir years of ‘Casablanca,’ ‘From Here to Eternity,’ ‘On the Waterfront;’ where perhaps I’m now a contender to talk about movies. Part of the evolution side effect is a bit of snobbish attitude to viewing movies; can’t waste time watching ineptitude in film making and storytelling. Movie making is an art form and a great gift. The works of quintessential movie makers fascinate me. I’ll notice eye-brows moving and the wispy windy sounds of a tree next to a window as two characters are staring at the moon. I take it all in; pure cinematic absorption. I need to learn, emote and feel. Looking back, motion pictures have helped congeal my views of the world and changed my life. Watching ‘Casablanca’ for the 44th time some years ago formed the basis of my first novel.
So when I previewed the movie ‘Destiny’s Bridge’ a few weeks ago, I found myself instantly riveted into the world of Tent City. My emotional ties developed quickly with the residents; sensitive caring humans looking for dignity and respect in a cold world. Jack Ballo seamlessly weaves their stories and interconnectivity of existence; how they depend on one another. I can say it was beautiful film making; vivid photography heightened the stark reality. You will learn about the harsh human condition of homelessness from this documentary.
Yes, it is an exquisite film which means sensitive, emotional, real and poignant. Back to my being a snob about movies; I’ve since watched it again. You may need to do the same; the film delivers a powerful message about homelessness and Minister Stephen Brigham’s vision for a future. Then Jack Ballo’s treatise on the lives of some of the people; you grow fond and bond with them, maybe wanting to reach out and help. You care about their lives. The film is beautiful because it makes you feel something inside. It evokes. I love when I’m evoked to emote by a film.
It was a painstaking meticulous project for Ballo; a year of his life for the desire to make a difference. I look at myself right now at this point in time somewhere in a universe. ‘Destiny’s Bridge’ has innervated and moved me; therefore a brilliant work. There’s sadness in the final scene looking down from high above; in some ways leaving that homeless world below but also heralding an awareness that much needs to be done. All my above criteria for good movie making have been met; I call it a contender. Here’s thanking and looking at you Jack Ballo.
Important Links: http://www.destinysbridge.com/
INFORMATION ON MOVIE PREMIERE:
ORDER TICKETS HERE ON LINE!! REALLY ALMOST SOLD OUT!!
Advance online tickets for the film premiere of Destiny’s Bridge are nearly sold out!!
Best you order yours before the end of today. ($12 at the door) Wed. Aug. 7, 7p.m., Two River Theater, Red Bank. So much art & culture for such a low price!!
6:30 – lobby exhibit of photography by Sherry Rubel
7:00 – showing of this beautiful and important documentary “Destiny’s Bridge”
8:20 – Q & A; Introduction to the audience to filmmaker Jack Ballo, Univision Films; Minister Steve Brigham, and residents of Tent City featured in the film. Emcee is Dr. Michael Paul Thomas, Monmouth University.
8:45 – Reception, wine & cheese, piano music by Michael, a Tent City resident.
Photos for all on the Red Carpet.