In transition

Student filmmakers learn the struggles of homelessness from a man making his way off the streets.

In Transition was created by a group of students who wanted to challenge the public perception of homelessness. Seniors Nick Bupp and Brittany Schreiber along with graduate student Jamie Bryant produced the video for Prof. Richard Breyer's documentary production class.

The television, radio and film students talked to about 10 homeless men and women during the Fall 2008 semester before focusing on Peter's story. At the time, Peter, 52, had found transitional housing with the help of a local shelter. He had lived in various shelters for the past 20 years.

Bupp, Bryant and Schreiber said they knew they wanted to focus their class project on homeless people, but had trouble finding a specific angle for their story. The group considered interviewing politicians and Bupp even considered being homeless and eating in soup kitchens for a week. In the end, they decided to volunteer at The Samaritan Center, a soup kitchen located at 310 Montgomery St., and  talk to the people there.

The students said they originally planned to include information about the city's various programs for homeless people. But after meeting Peter, who was trying to get an absentee ballot in order to vote in the elections, they decided to give their story a different spin.

"We wanted to be sympathetic towards homeless people," Schreiber said . "We wanted to explore their daily lives and relate to them and see what was available to help them versus (just showing) the negative stigma of homelessness."

The filmmakers said Peter was eager to share his story. He talked about his years in the Navy, which he joined after the Vietnam War ended, and memories of his father.

Photo: Andrea Alemañy
Seniors Brittany Schreiber, Nick Bupp and graduate student Jamie Bryant.

Although they have almost 15 hours of tape, the producers said some of their best conversations with Peter took place off the record.

"You want to get the good stuff on tape," Bryant said . "But then you also want to connect with someone. I feel there were some great moments, but it would have really cheapened up to videotape (them)."

But even though Peter wanted his story told, shooting the video had its challenges.  Peter didn't have a phone or an address where he could be reached and the students had to play it by ear, hoping nothing would shake his routine. Once they had a hold of him, they followed him as he ran errands or helped out his friends.

The students said that volunteering at the center helped them realize that each homeless person has a unique story.

"You might have a daily encounter with them, but you never really know how they got into these situations," said Bupp, who stills volunteers at The Samaritan Center.

Although they said they would love to do a follow-up piece, the students have not seen Peter since they finished shooting. Reflecting on their experiences with Peter, the students said they are happy to have shared some part of his story.

"This is someone who would have never had access to these kinds of tools," Bryant said . "It was about giving him a voice."

Quite a story

Sad to think that Peter is only one of hundreds or thousands like him here in Syracuse.

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