Sunshine Hotel (2001)

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Sunshine Hotel is an interesting and humane documentary about the lives of several men who live at the eponymous Bowery flophouse. Filmmaker Michael Dominic, shooting on digital video with little or no crew, does an excellent job of allowing these destitute men to tell their own stories for the camera. Dominic provides a small amount of background about the neighborhood, but wisely keeps the focus of his film intimate. Nathan Smith, the manager of the hotel, narrates the film, and is the most garrulous of the residents. Smith is a compelling figure. He speaks intelligently of his life and its failures, and of the trials of his job. He seems to function very well, but some of his behavior raises questions about his mental health. The film is poignant because most of the men, like L.A. Nelson, the solemn Vietnam veteran, try to maintain a certain level of pride in who they are, but in the end, they all seem resigned to being lost and lonely. Vic, an older, alcoholic clerk at the hotel, is one of the saddest cases. Of all the residents, he seems the most self-aware, and at one point, he decides he's going to move out of the Sunshine. Eventually, he changes his mind, but he is evasive about the reason. It seems he's just given in to his hopelessness. Ray, a former resident who still works at the hotel, offers an outsider's harsh, unflattering appraisal of the residents and their prospects. We grow to like these men, and want to reject Ray's cynical condemnations, but Sunshine Hotel offers ample evidence that whatever part of themselves these men have lost may never be restored. Dominic has made a film of heart and intelligence about those subsisting on the margins of society.