Living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to look away when passing a homeless person. Which is what happens every time I leave my home near Venice. The scope of the problem, the reality of the harshness, the causes, the solutions are all so daunting. It seems easiest just to avert our attention. We may want to feign ignorance, but 60,000 people are navigating life on the streets of Los Angeles on any given day.
First-time director Matthew Siretta did just the opposite of look away. After using his camera to capture street after street lined by blue tents, Matthew got unflinchingly up close to see and listen to a dozen denizens of the Skid Row and Hollywood encampments. The result is the intimate documentary Disco’d, a visceral portrayal of downtrodden life on the streets. In this film, you can envision urban tent life without suffering the smells, the highs, the pains, the danger, the cold, the drug deals, or the daily search for the human necessities of water, food, and a place to relieve waste.
According to the Urban Dictionary, “To be disco’d is to be discombobulated to the upmost capacity. To be completely thrown off, having no idea what the hell is going on around.” The men in the film frequently get disco’d, as they matter-of-factly state. They lose track of their possessions. The contents of their tents get strewn about the street. They get scammed in drug deals “trickery.” Most of this confusion appears from being too stoned on whatever they smoke or inject. In one lamentable scene, the elderly stooped Lou talks of hope for a new liver as he smokes a bowl of heroin or crack.
Grandmotherly Julie is the most relatable. A jovial yet hardened and raspy-voiced poet, she lucidly reads from her notebook, “Feelings of melancholy, some kind of voodoo the streets, each place a haven to sleep or not to sleep.” When Julie is gifted a hundred dollars by a stranger during the holidays, she goes to a drugstore to buy cleaning products, a wreath, and a battery-operated lighted Christmas tree to brighten up her tent, as well as a knife to protect herself. People want to help her. But Julie’s experience of both moving into miserable subsidized housing and her subsequent decision to move back to the streets are equally frustrating to witness.
Most of the film is shot in the dead of night, creating focused personal connections with the subjects. Looming over their lives are posted LA Sanitation notices that warn of an upcoming city sweep of the sidewalks to dispose of all loose possessions and disinfect the streets. The film ends with the sweep. The residents must take all of their belongings off the block for this time period, as clawed sanitation trucks scoop up anything left behind. You dread how much work this entails and realize how hard it is to do so in their otherly, disoriented, disco’d world. Right on our very streets.
Disco’d is screening at the Downtown Independent beginning on November 8.
Karen Henry is an Associate Editor at LA YOGA who volunteers in a variety of capacities for nonprofit organizations and artists around Los Angeles. She practices yoga as a counterbalance to her daily impact sports and is a mother of four grown children who also practice yoga . Now, she’s working on teaching yoga and joy of life to the grandkids!