Among the many issues facing Americans today, homelessness has long been at the forefront. It’s an issue that struck home with filmmaker Stephen Newton, inspiring him to make his latest film – one that addresses the subject in a concise, forthright fashion.
The film, One Night in January: Counting the Cost of Homelessness recently premiered online and is now available for free viewing online.
The film was shot principally in Tennessee, where Newton is based, but the conditions and situations regarding the homeless are applicable to any region in the United States. The film includes interviews with historian and philosopher Noam Chomsky and Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, as well as the homeless themselves.
“I started filming One Night In January in 2016, after completing a pro-bono short film, 116 West Walnut Street, about The Manna House, which provides permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless men in Johnson City, Tennessee,” Newton recalled. “Listening to the men at The Manna House tell their stories of loneliness, despair, and hopelessness opened my eyes to our growing national homelessness epidemic. Like so many Americans, I was clueless. My films start with a question, in this case: ‘Why are millions of Americans experiencing homelessness in the richest country in the world?’”
In addition, and as a supplement, to the film, Newton has also posted a blog “Homelessness in the Age of Coronavirus," which further examines the vulnerability of the homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My goal is to make the film as available to as many people as possible,” Newton explained. “My motto is ‘Awareness precedes change.’ We have to acknowledge problems before we can fix them.”
Newton’s previous documentary, the award-winning Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection (2014), explored yet another topical problem: The mass incarceration of prison inmates in the United States. The film was screened to great acclaimed at several film festivals, aired twice in prime-time on East Tennessee PBS in Knoxville, and can also be viewed online – for free.
For his next project, Newton is opting for a change of pace. He’s now working on the script for the third part of a trilogy of narrative short films titled Dark as Night, filmed in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
“It was an amazing experience to do casting, location scouting, scriptwriting, filming, and editing,” he said. “Once Part III is done, I’m going to edit it all, with some changes, into one 30-minute film. If all goes well, Part III will be released in 2021. Production on all fronts came to a halt during the current pandemic.”
Reflecting on One Night in January, Newton is satisfied that the film is being watched, and stirring debate, and drawing attention to the plight of the homeless, both here and abroad.
“My goal was to shed light on our homeless epidemic so people could have a better understanding of its causes and consequences, and from the audience reaction so far, I feel I accomplished that goal.”