Austin-made and inspired comedy illuminates homelessness at LA film festival
Two years ago, Aaron Brown and Lenny Barszap were just two Austin filmmakers with a mission: Putting homelessness into context through comedy. Since then, Austin has seen bitter fights between neighbors — housed and unhoused — that reached epic and contentious proportions, especially in the wake of 2021's camping ban reinstatement. But many people outside of Austin are unaware of those disputes beyond what they see and hear on TV.
Now people outside of the city will get a look inside through Home Free, a "stoner comedy." The feature film will be shown on closing night at Dances with Films Festival in Los Angeles on July 2, inviting onlookers into a recreation of the home where the University of Texas students-turned-filmmakers hosted an unhoused local until things got out of hand.
A trailer with major Big Lebowski energy starts off as a classic college comedy, and transitions into a more realistic look at what it means to live among people with very different circumstances. It's a heroic fantasy that some students get a little too close to out of altruism or ego; But many disapproving onlookers also lose their footing in looking for where to lay the blame.
"This film is a Trojan horse that will put a spotlight on the homelessness crisis and organizations like The Other Ones Foundation that are actively transitioning people off the streets and into a stable and supportive community," said director Brown and writer Barszap in a release. "Their Esperanza Community right here in Austin is a perfect model for what can be done at scale across the country.”
In addition to being inspired by Austin events, the film has a big local bent. The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF), an Austin-based organization that provides aid, case management, low-barrier employment, and even tiny homes, is a partner for the film. It and similar nonprofit organizations will receive at least 10 percent of the profits.
“'Home Free' is a new model for making movies," said Brown and Barszap. "Why not have all of the insane effort required to make films also create a tangible impact on people’s lives?”
The soundtrack was produced by powerhouse Austin musician Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas, who was also around for some of the same real-life UT adventures, and scored the film as a '90s "mixtape." Audiences will hear original tracks by Quesada, Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys), J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Luscious Jackson, Fatlip and Slimkid3 (The Pharcyde), and more. More information about the soundtrack release is coming later.
“Aaron and Lenny were always just doing fun, crazy stuff and I spent a lot of time at their house,” said Quesada. “Many artists we approached were into the mission of the whole thing. I've learned a lot from [the filmmakers] about how much goes into all of the behind-the-scenes work that’s being done for the homeless population, but it’s also about needing to understand the roots of homelessness. I think some people have a misconception that you either sweep them up or they get a job, but there are deeper issues that need to be addressed. Hopefully what we're doing brings light to that.”
The filmmaking duo, working as Entertaining Entertainment and Onion Creek Productions, talked to CultureMap when the film was first announced. They highlighted how varied the unhoused experience can be, and touched on the illusion of choice that sends people onto the street; two of the main goals of the film.
A common talking point against dedicating more aid to unhoused populations is that individuals find their situations by choice. Even some unhoused individuals will declare that they arrived of their own volition. But Home Free doesn't invalidate this explanation, but forges narratively beyond it to ask what kinds of alternatives would cause someone to choose being ostracized and unsheltered.