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BUMS' PARADISE documentary

Thursday, May 13, 2004
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Event Type:
Location Details:
Albany High School Library
603 Key Route Blvd
Albany, CA

Bums' Paradise is a 53-minute documentary that depicts the lives of the men and women who lived in the ten-year-old Albany Landfill community prior to their eviction. It follows them through the eviction and documents them one month after the eviction. The film emphasizes their concepts of community as well as the amazing art that they created.

Instead of being a documentary about homelessness, Bums' Paradise considers the question: What if the homeless -- the indigent, the bums -- told their own stories?

This is exactly what filmmakers Tomas McCabe and Andrei Rozen set out to explore with the Albany Landfill residents. Both McCabe and Rozen shot for five months. Landfill resident Robert "Rabbit" Barringer was also given a camera to film life as he experienced it as a resident on the Landfill. What unfolds is a rich and complex story showing the full spectrum of human experience. We see segments on love, family, home, politics, community, art, insanity, and addiction: Paula and Chris are a couple -- Sparky paints pictures on broken pieces of concrete -- Rabbit talks about social egalitarianism and Marxism. Ashby talks about his experiences with the police; "Mad" Mark talks about a gas or liquid drug that induces hypnosis. Jean Paul reveals his shattering thoughts facing jail time versus being evicted:

"Nobody wants to go to jail. But I'd rather go to jail for something I believe in, like my right to exist . . . somewhere."

We see these and other issues approached from the outside as well as the inside, because Landfill residents themselves reveal them to us. In other segments on survival mechanisms, dysfunctional behavior, and creative endeavors, we see the lifestyle they have created together and the codes of protocol they live by. These include practicalities such as not losing the lids to water bottles and sophisticated ideas such as community meetings to discuss problems. We see the amazing amount of creativity found among the residents because they "are allowed to live free of public scorn and scrutiny and the daily harassment of police." (Robert Barringer)

The opening scenes of the documentary show the natural beauty and tranquility of the Landfill and establish a sense of place. Here, we first encounter Rabbit as he describes his views of the Landfill:

"This Landfill stands as a brooding monument to obsolescence. What could be a more appropriate refuge for America's unused people? Here, they can be hidden away from a society which regards them as a nuisance and an eyesore."

Through the combination of McCabe, Rozen, and Rabbit's footage, Bums' Paradise reveals to us the lives of the people living there. It also invites us to get to know several permanent Landfill residents such as "Mad" Mark, whose nighttime endeavors lead to the creation of an enchanting fairy castle, a two-story structure complete with steel-reinforced cement floors, a pointed-arch window, battlements, and a spiral stair, built completely from pieces of discarded concrete slabs. We meet Jimbow the Hobow, who writes moving poetry that cries out to a society that has tossed him aside and Paula, who has penetrated to the heart of what it means to live on the Landfill:

"The kindness that comes from nothing or someone who has next to nothing, but who will give till they can't give no more of their time or their food or their last 35 cents."

Then there is Rabbit himself, whose sophisticated drawings, eloquence, and college education are a metaphor for the short distance between us and a life on the Landfill -- he stands as a bridge, showing each of us how fate alone separates us from a life on the streets.

Because we get drawn into the lives of the residents, the handling of their eviction directly affects the emotions of the viewer. Watching Dave, a Landfill resident, worrying about what will happen to his puppies more than what will happen to him while being photographed and numbered by the police for his formal eviction papers, tears at the viewer's heart.

The obvious distress of the residents and the hopeless red-tape quagmire witnessed in the City of Albany Council Chambers are brutal to witness. We know the residents now -- they're not just faceless panhandlers. Bums' Paradise is a poignant reminder of what we lose when we lose the human face of homelessness.


Come see this award-winning film on Thursday, May 13th at 7pm at the Albany High School Library.

It's free... but donations are encouraged!

Robert "Rabbit" Barringer and filmmaker Tomas McCabe will be present for Q&A after the screening.
Added to the calendar on Wed, May 12, 2004 2:43PM
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