In theatres this week is the film GIMME SHELTER. It is the story of a young girls journey to forgive not only herself but those who profess to love her. Vanessa Hudgens plays Apple, a young girl whose mother is a drug user and prostitute. Knowing no other life, she finds herself going down that very path.
But one instant changes everything as she searches for the man who is her father and discovers she is pregnant. Young, feeling alone and overwhelmed, Apple discovers a family she didn’t think existed in the most unlikely of places – a shelter.
Bringing this film to the screen is Ronald Krauss. Writing the films original screenplay, Ron spent a year at one of the shelters for pregnant teens. He is also responsible for the television series CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL that he wrote/produced and directed. Needless to say the film was in good and caring hands.
Also responsible for the stories in the film is that of Kathy DiFiore who for more than 30 years has seen to the Several Sources Shelters network to help women in need. DiFiore, herself, understands what it takes to be strong. She escaped an abusive marriage and was living on the street.
Knowing she wanted to help others she turned to Mother Teresa and with the DiFiore Bill that still exists today, Kathy was able to change the shelter laws to make her dream a reality.
It was a pleasure to speak with both Ron and Kathy about the film:
I saw the film and I am really surprised. Being a former foster kid myself a lot of it resonated as far as how you are perceived by others. It is assumed that you are a troublemaker or such instead of perhaps caught up in a home situation brought on by adults that has nothing to do with the child. It was interesting to me in that you kind of covered all of that. Was that your intent to have each character to have some of those qualities?
Krauss: It is a fact that there are labels in life and they transferred to the film. The film covers a lot of things whether its foster care, poverty, family, love and every person that comes to see this film is going to have a different point of view on it. It’s a personal story and you will bring your own feelings into that person story. We heard a lot of different people say that the film affects people whether it be a mother and daughter or father and son. I wanted to just cover the overall with the compassion and hope of it. To really show that there is a face to compassion and hope. Anyone can be homeless today; there is a new face to homelessness. When the economy changed and people lost their jobs there were housewives and people with really good jobs who are now homeless. That’s a whole new definition than just people with drug problems or out on the street or fit into society. You lose a lot of dignity.
Those individuals that are labels homeless due to drugs etc. are becoming the minority. In the film Apple gets lost in that stereotype of homeless.
Krauss: She is like many, many people who are born into situations or don’t have a choice. They find themselves a victim of abuse, which a lot of people are going through. Abuse here is a very wide term. The mother is a drug addict and she doesn’t know her father and that is a common story. I hear that when I go to the screenings or some aspect of that. Even if you bury that in your life and succeed, somewhere it’s still inside you. It becomes part of your life always. I think the one thing we have been hearing in the film is that to really acknowledge this in a film is a healing thing for people. People are saying the film is very healing and that it addresses things emotionally because it shows who you are and what your circumstances are. As long as you have somebody in life you have a chance and that can be your family. I think that’s why I wrote the whole Brendan Fraser story because when she shows up at the house he is the definition of the American family. He’s working on Wall Street, he’s made it and the back door opens up and two beautiful kids come out with the wife but at the core it’s broken. He buried his past and one day it showed up. It cracked his world of everything he built his façade on. It’s cracked by the human emotion of life and the girl who comes in it. He starts to redefine his life with Apple and coming to terms with what happened 17 years prior. It doesn’t go away, the choices people make don’t always affect one person, but generations. This is the chance to change the thinking of the culture.
You changed the choices to options. Sometimes you do have no choice but when she gets out of the car and you see that now she has a list of options that are built on hope, trust and faith. The fact that her father let her go opens the door for those options.
Krauss: You have three generations here. He makes a bad choice, then Apple and she’s about to make choices and then you have the baby who will be affected by what the other two have done. Between these three they are so linked that they are affecting the generations to come. This film can show people about generations to come.
So what’s happened in the last generation is that there is a disconnect. My grandparents shared the history but somewhere between my mother and me there came this disconnect where sharing the past is hard. So you lose the ability to know the choices.
Krauss: Yes, it’s very complex. I can’t even answer all the questions in terms of the film because so many people see it so differently.
Did you expect that?
Krauss: No, I didn’t, I knew when I was doing the project in the shelter there were so many things but I didn’t know how powerful the layers of people’s lives would be.
Kathy, what do you see when you screen the film and the reactions from the audience?
DiFiore: When I’m around to see the screenings I see the tears down both men and women’s faces to watch them in utter shock about the pain between Apple and her mother. It’s very hard for me to watch the movie because there are certain things that are so emotional for me. The scene between Apple and her mother that is harsh is still hard for me.
There are so many traumatizing events with Hudgens and Dawson.
Krauss: Yes, that happened to the girl Darlishia. Half the story is based on her and the ten foster homes and it happened that her mother attacked her with a razor blade. The mother just wanted to hurt her.
It’s the mothers hurt and it’s a mirror image. The anger is for herself but taking it out on her daughter.
Krauss: Yes, the mother hates her but down deep loves her and that hurts even more.
It’s hard to explain that conflict to some people. That hatred but loving them at the same time. Kids now have no problem showing pain on their faces, my generation was good at hiding what was going on.
DeFiore: These kids are fixable and I’m hoping the film inspires more people to know you don’t have to have a master’s degree in social work to reach out and help. Just be the kid’s friend and listen. They want to know someone is listening and making eye contact. GIMME SHELTER is not a movie, it’s a movement! This film can help change the world.
Finally, what made you decide to choose Ms. Hudgens as Apple?
Krauss: There were a lot of Hollywood actresses that were trying to get this role. I didn’t know who she was. She got the script and came to the audition and in the end she was the choice that I wanted. I narrowed it down to a few girls and sent it with a link to the girls in the shelter. The girls picked Vanessa! She was committed to the character and amazing.
Thank you both for your time. This Friday in theatres is the moving and well-done film GIMME SHELTER.