Us & Them is a powerful documentary that delves into one of the most pressing issues facing our region: homelessness. Imagine a City spoke with Victoria-based writer and director, Krista Loughton, to learn about her journey creating an emotionally rich film that shatters misconceptions and demands change.
1. Where did the idea for Us & Them originate? What inspired you to shine a light on the issue of homelessness and poverty?
My interest in shining a light on the issue of poverty goes way back. At 18, I visited Zimbabwe and was disheartened that 80% of the population was sleeping on dirt floors every night. I wanted to return to Africa to help, but life didn’t take me back to Harare. Several years later, I realized I didn’t have to go back to Africa to help people—I just had to go downtown.
2. Us & Them was a labour of love 10 years in-the-making. After being immersed in the issue of homelessness for over a decade, what would you say is the most surprising thing you learned from the experience?
I was surprised by the depth of insight and compassion the people whose lives I followed—people who quickly became friends—had when it came to dealing with pain and trauma. It was eye-opening for me—showing me just how much work I had to do on myself in order to address the pain I was experiencing as well.
3. What are some common misconceptions about how people end up on the streets and why was it important for you to shatter those misconceptions?
From the start, I knew these people were struggling and that my film would show the pain they were experiencing. But, while making the film, more layers were uncovered. The stereotypes are all wrong. People experiencing homelessness are not lazy. For many, childhood trauma, mental health challenges and substance abuse as a means of coping with trauma, come into play. This creates a situation where managing life becomes extremely difficult. A vulnerable person can’t just get a job or pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Systemic issues, like a lack of affordable housing, also keep them on the street.
4. What is the one key takeaway you hope viewers walk away with after watching your film?
I want people to leave the theatre and never look at a person who lives on the street the same way again.
5. Many people feel unequipped to help people experiencing poverty. Do you have advice for people who want to help, but don’t know where to start?
There’s lots of simple ways to help, including:
- Smile or say hello to people who are living on the street.
- Educate yourself about the issues in your community.
- Talk to people involved in local advocacy efforts to see how you can lend your voice. Everyone can advocate in their own way. You’ll know you’ve found the right platform by how it makes you feel.
- Volunteer. Any amount of time you can spare will help—just do what you can.
- Donate. Whether it’s donating slightly used clothing to a local shelter or money to United Way or one of its community agencies, you can help provide crucial supports to people experiencing homelessness.
How has this experience personally changed you as a filmmaker—but also as a person?
The experience has shown me how powerful the medium of film is to educate people and raise awareness about important issues. As a person, it has also helped me uncover the dogged tenacity at my core to tell stories about issues where there is a blatant injustice. I will undoubtedly take these learnings with me into my next project.