Nine students enrolled in the Social Justice Documentary course will release their original documentary, entitled “All of Us Home,” on May 4. The film centers on SREHUP, a student-run emergency housing unit in Philadelphia, as well as the men who live there and the struggles they face.
“All of Us Home” represents a semester’s worth of work for the students enrolled in the six-credit course. In addition to regularly attending classes, students spent their Sunday nights visiting the SREHUP shelter on the corner of Broad and Arch. There, they would get to know the men and talk to them about their experiences on the street.
The goals of the class are twofold—not only to learn how to make a documentary, but also to help other people in the process.
“To be able to go out into the community, and learn about people from all walks of life and see the challenges they face and to do something that helps spread their message or provides them with new opportunities—that’s really cool,” says student director Julia Lull.
The class is run through the Waterhouse Family Institute in the department of communications and cross-listed with Peace and Justice. Under the guidance of teachers John O’Leary and Steve McWilliams, “All of Us Home” is staffed and directed entirely by students. They called their production company Swerve Studios, which started as an inside joke during a lecture, but was ultimately chosen when the class noticed the “we” in it, making “swerve” a rough combination of “we serve.”
The student filmmakers, however, faced the near-impossible task of creating a complete documentary over the course of a semester.
“To do all the work to get to the screening in 15 weeks is unheard of,” Lull says.
As a result, the completion of the film relies heavily on teamwork.
“Teamwork makes it manageable, in terms of time,” says PR director Hannah Ishida. Each member of the class has an individual job, ranging from editing to public relations to camerawork. “If all the work was going on one or two people, then it would be a disaster, but everyone picks up the work they want to do and it all gets done,” Lull says.
Swerve Studios still faced its share of struggles with bringing their ideas to fruition.
“A lot of us are still learning these filmmaking skills and sometimes we have to be really conscious of how we approach other people and how we talk to them about the project we’re doing,” Lull says.
To ensure the proper approach to the project, the crew made sure to emphasize putting the needs of the inhabitants first.
From the beginning, the filmmakers agreed to refrain from filming in SREHUP.
“This is their home for the winter, and we would never walk into someone’s home and start filming without permission,” Lull says.
Instead, the crew shoots outside on the streets or in the church out of which the shelter is run. The crew does not only film around the shelter; rather, they eat with the shelter’s inhabitants, talking with them over dinner. If a resident feels comfortable sharing, only then will the crew film him.
Service is forefront on the minds of the student filmmakers, they say, “A documentary can become a form of advocacy,” Lull says.
“A lot of the men we talk to feel like they’re ignored. All day long they’re just walking the streets and they’re being kicked out of businesses and kicked out of public spaces and a lot of people see them as an eyesore or they walk past and you ignore they’re even there. They’re human beings, and they want to feel human too, and they want to have relationships with people and have someone to talk to.”
Through the documentary, the filmmakers say they hope to cover the larger issues surrounding homelessness and challenge the viewer’s misconceptions.
As a result, the choice to center on SREHUP was an easy one.
The films we make are supposed to show Villanova students doing something good in society,” Lull says. “It was too perfect of a fit to not focus on.”
SHREHUP, which was founded by a group of University students led by Stephanie Sena in 2011, offers 30 men daily dinners and breakfasts, holistic programs and assistance in attaining permanent housing each year from April through November.
“It’s a new model because it’s not just catering to their basic needs and sending them on their way,” Lull says. “They’re really looking for how to help these individuals really grow and get out of the situation they’re in.”
Swerve Studios hopes to use its documentary, once completed, to help fundraise for SREHUP.
To keep up with the project as it nears its release, “like” Swerve Studios on Facebook (facebook.com/vuswervestudios)or follow them on Twitter (@swerve_studios).