Before I get into my review for My Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movie (henceforth known as MBFHBM), I’d like to give a little background on the director, Johnny Allen Shaw. You see, during the filming of this production, Johnny was (and still is) homeless. After some generous donations, three years of schoolin’ (at Butte College in Oroville, CA) and a bit of luck, he managed to obtain a darn good laptop and a decent video camera, and eventually churned out the film I’m reviewing. Now I’m sure you’ve got a million and one questions churning in your minds as you read this, so visit John’s site at http://www.freewebs.com/transitionsvideo/ to clear a few things up. (I’m personally very curious about Mr. Shaw, so I may interview him in a future issue of Rogue Cinema.)
Now, MBFHBM is a very interesting film, in that it lacks a beginning, middle, and end. There is no story arc here, and for all intensive purposes, this is not a documentary. What Johnny Allen Shaw has done here is taken a brief glimpse into the lives of multiple people. Some of them are homeless, some of them are street performers, and still others are just interesting folks that he met on the street. Some of the more memorable personalities are: Matthew Silver, a pretty wild and crazy guy that does outrageous stunts in public that range from dancing like a madman to some acoustic guitar music to dressing in all sorts of weird outfits. While he does compare himself to Jackass at one point, there truly is no comparison. The stuff on Jackass is borderline sado-masochism (that’s almost always funny), but what Matt does is simple, goofy, fun, and most importantly, not dangerous!
Then there’s "Pink Cloud," an older fellow that survived stomach cancer and now enjoys his days by walking the streets of Berkeley, California; "Screwie Lewie," a street performer that enjoys rolling joints (and teaching others how to do it… in public!) and playing music for passersby (apparently he also has his own community TV show called "The Video Time Machine."); Robert Enkenswa Nwenge, a student at UC Berkeley that is studying international conflict resolution psychology. Robert is very passionate about becoming a peacekeeper and discusses his tragic life in South Africa where his wife and children were murdered, apparently due to his membership in the ANC (the African National Congress, which became a "terrorist" faction shortly after the Sharpeville Massacre.). He notes that he did some things he was not proud of and has since atoned for the wrongs he has committed, and vows to bring peace to the world. (Starting with Israel no less.)
Another vastly interesting character in this piece is "Prophet Kennethra," a man in a bathrobe, preaching about a new religion he has formed after having a really weird dream, and after his dog talked to him. What’s odd is that he seems to completely convinced with his "do it yourself" religion and preaches openly (and joyfully) about it. Even odder, he seems like a fairly well-balanced individual, despite his bathrobe attire and seemingly insane ideas. These are just some of the folks walking around Berkeley, California and are (what I consider to be) the highlights of this short film. Johnny Allen Shaw has really made something truly unique here and the film is quite fascinating. At times it does get a bit dull, but overall, this is an entertaining piece of cinema that is unlike anything else I’ve seen in recent memory. Instead of trying to develop a storyline to tie all these people together, or placing bits of narration or dramatizations throughout the film, Johnny Shaw has delivered raw footage of everyday people that spend a most (or all) of their time on the streets.
This is a pretty decent start for homeless film maker (hmm… this could be the start of a new craze) and John has plenty to be proud of here, especially since he had all sorts of trouble with the production ("no help, no hope, no family, no money, no food, cops chasing me from outlet to outlet…", plus he had some issues with the company that is making and distributing the film). I sincerely hope that this movie gains John some notoriety and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. If I’ve sparked your curiousity about Johnny Allen Shaw and his film, then be sure to visit his website and the MBFHBM homepage! My Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movie will eventually be available on DVD from FilmBaby.com but can be pre-ordered at John’s website for only ten dollars!