Streetwise (1985)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Social Issues, Interpersonal Relationships  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

Unapologetic and remarkably non-judgmental, Streetwise is a model documentary. It's not that filmmakers Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark are indifferent to the desperation and anguish of their subjects -- teens living on the streets of a very prosperous city. But they refuse to turn these kids' stories into cloying moments of lost opportunities and broken dreams. What little time the film spends on the parents is enough to make you understand that the community of street people is in some ways (but certainly not all ways) more stable than the homes the teens abandoned or were thrown out of. That kids at least have each other is more than they had before. The "solution" to these kids' problems is in their hands; the adults in their lives are either indifferent to them or incapable of offering any real support or meaningful advice. Some may make it -- get decent jobs and work their way out of poverty -- and some, like the boy who visits his abusive father in prison, won't survive (the teen committed suicide after filming was completed). Unlike a typical TV news feature or documentary on the same subject, with a well-dressed reporter or somber narrator telling us what to think, Bell and Mark let the stories tell themselves and sidestep the sentiment that inevitably accompanies any narration.