"Now I'm in Control." 

Q&A with Homeless Filmmaker Leo Rhodes

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A HANDFUL of Portland's homeless residents have spent months as filmmakers, with Portland Community Media and Sisters of the Road teaming up to teach homeless folks the ins and outs of digital filmmaking and Final Cut Pro. The fruits of their cinematic labors are screening at the Street Stories Film Fest this Saturday, December 10, at Cinema 21. Participant Leo Rhodes, who is currently staying at the Right 2 Dream Too tent city on NW 4th and Burnside, is pushing the deadline—he hasn't quite wrapped up his film about camping during the Rose Festival.

MERCURY: You've been homeless off and on for 30 years, but how did you get involved in homeless advocacy and politics?

LEO RHODES: When I lived up in Seattle, we got an indoor place at the Port of Seattle—they let us homeless people stay in a storage building for two weeks. After two weeks, we went to their commissioners' meeting to thank them. Three-quarters through my spiel, one of the commissioners said, "I think we should extend this." And it was unanimous. We wound up staying in that spot for four years. That's when I realized people were actually listening.

What's your film about?

It's about the campaign Right 2 Survive did, camping out during the Rose Festival in June. It wasn't a protest against the parade itself. It's just the idea of allowing people to camp out for 48 hours [where parade goers are allowed to camp on sidewalks to secure viewing locations]. I've been documented many times, with all the stuff that I've done. When people did the documentaries, they never got what I was trying to say. It was always their version of what I said. Now I'm in control, that's what I like about this project. I can say what I want to say, show what I want to show. I'm nervous and excited about how people are going to perceive it. One thing I always get is they seem to get mad.

When you showed a film at the festival last year, you mean? People got mad?

Yeah, but that's good because that's what I'm trying to say: That this isn't right. Last year, I had three women come out [of the festival] and say, "I was happy when I got here, but now I'm so pissed!" That's my thing. I tell 'em, "Don't be mad at me, be mad at the decision makers." Homeless people just want to be left alone. One of the greatest things is to walk through the camp at night and hear the snoring. People are safe, they're secure. Out on the street, it's not like that. You sleep, but you sleep with one eye open.

So you feel like it's a good thing to make people a little angry.

Homeless people just want a peaceful quiet place. They don't want to get involved in all that political stuff. They just want a foundation. But everyone is putting all this on them. It's hard to get people out of their warm homes and comfort zones to get involved. We need a lot of people protesting on this. It's just like Occupy. When there are thousands of people, the police don't come on in. But when there are only a handful, they start arresting people.

Catch Leo Rhodes' film at the Sisters of the Road's Street Stories Film Fest (Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st, Saturday, December 10, noon-3 pm, free, all ages).

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