23 January 2024

Illawarra film turns focus on homeless crisis facing older women

| Eileen Mulligan
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Scene from the film Frances.

In a scene from Frances, Juliet Scrine plays the university lecturer who becomes homeless after a divorce and can’t find rental accommodation because she has a dog. Photo: Jack Michele.

The housing crisis hit home for Illawarra filmmakers Sharon Lewis and Richard Jones on one of their daily beach walks with their dog.

“We started to notice there were more and more people living in their cars and a lot of them seemed to be working, with work clothes hanging in the back window or they were working on laptops,” Sharon said.

Richard and Sharon have spent the past 15 years predominately making music videos but were keen to make another film.

“It had been years since our last film,” Sharon said. “We wanted a story that would identify with everyone.

“After looking at the statistics, women over 50 are the highest growing demographic of homeless. This was something we wanted to highlight as most people are under the assumption that to be homeless you must be mentally ill or drug or alcohol addicted.

“This is not the case. In today’s society anyone can become homeless due to circumstances beyond their control and, if you are working, particularly on a single income, it does not mean you can afford housing.”

The inspiration for the main character came from a woman Richard met while walking. She was living in her car because she could not find a rental property which allowed pets.

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“Once we had the story, we engaged friend and accomplished scriptwriter Jack Michele to write the script,” Sharon said.

The result is Frances, a 40-minute short film starring well known Illawarra actor and director Juliet Scrine. At the heart of the narrative is university lecturer, Frances, a resilient and hardworking woman navigating the aftermath of a recent divorce.

“The film endeavors to shatter preconceived notions about homelessness and directs attention to the alarming reality that anyone, regardless of their background, can find themselves facing the harsh uncertainties of housing instability,” Sharon said.

Frances loses her rental accommodation to the short-term holiday market.

“Faced with the daunting task of finding a new home in a fiercely competitive market, Frances encounters insurmountable challenges due to her single income and her unwillingness to be separated from her beloved dog,” Sharon said.

“Her unwavering pride becomes both a shield and an obstacle, preventing her from seeking assistance from friends or family.

“Consequently, she finds herself reluctantly residing in her car, a stark symbol of the precariousness of housing in the modern world.”

Sharon and Richard produced the film with Sharon directing and Richard taking on the role of cinematographer, showcasing the region’s natural beauty using locations including Sharkey’s Beach, Coledale, the Illawarra Escarpment, Wollongong Harbour and the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus.

“The film received great support from the community and local businesses. Black Market cafe, Synergy Dry Cleaning and Thirroul Beach Motel all allowed the use of their businesses as locations for the film, demonstrating the wonderful support available for local filmmakers,” Sharon said.

“As the film was self-funded we were extremely fortunate to have all of the cast and crew volunteer their time for the project and we are eternally grateful to the wonderful actors Juliet Scrine, Nick Bolton, Tahlia Crinis and Laura Whalan who brought the characters to life.

“We are forever grateful for everyone who volunteered as it meant we did not need to apply and wait for funding. We knew the story needed to be told and it needed to be done quickly. We could not have done it without everyone generously donating their time.”

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Sharon has been a screen and media teacher for more than 20 years and was able to offer crew roles to her peers and students as well as other professionals.

Frances is in post-production and will have a premiere screening in the coming months. From there the film will be entered in festivals around the country.

Meanwhile, Wollongong Homeless Hub and Housing Services CEO Mandy Booker said the number of people sleeping in cars had increased, particularly over the past six months.

Most of these people would be classified as the “working poor” and, because they are employed, find it difficult to access services during business hours.

“We’ve got some pilot programs that we are rolling out this year,” Mandy said. “We have an outreach van that goes out on Thursday nights that people can go and access.

“But we also have teams that actively go out to the sites where we have been informed that people are sleeping in cars and offer assistance and engage with them in that way.

“The reception to date has been quite positive and people have been really open to receiving support.”

Screening information will be available at ScreenIllawarra.com

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