American Street Kid

Jacob Richardson | 8/09/2020

A powerful documentary that, despite its low budget feel, reaches the heart of the issue with compassion and intrigue.


American Street Kid is a documentary that follows a range of youths on the streets in America, and charts their interactions with documentary filmmaker Michael Leoni as he tries to (a) get an understanding of why they are where they are and (b) help them out of their situations. As the documentary progresses, these kids suffer setbacks, get hurt or killed, and struggle to find a way out of the hand life has dealt them. The real crux of the documentary is the question of not only whether any of them will, but whether they even can. 


The documentary feels like an early 2000’s piece, and visually not only does the quality of the footage suggest this, but the clothing, the editing and the title blocks all have this nostalgic early 2000’s vibe. The introduction is also relatively hamfisted, and Leoni at first struggles to not come across with a ‘saviour’ feel. Early indications, then, are that this documentary is going to be nigh on unwatchable - a visually out of date piece with a white saviour complex. 


But then something curious happens. The self-righteousness and visuals give way to something that Leoni has done absolutely remarkably. Under the portent of this documentary, and ominous discussions on the plight of American kids on the streets, Leoni has found a series of stories that not only are incredibly compelling in and of themselves, but that he inserts himself into in a way that feels genuinely caring, considered and compassionate. 


The documentary is edited together tremendously well also, and the arcs of the main cast of kids is just incredible. The rise and fall of these children, aided as they are by Leoni who acts as a barometer for audience outrage, seems tailor made for cinema, and American Street Kid crafts compelling narrative arcs out of each of them that keep you absolutely hooked. 


When the ending comes, not only do you have a greater understanding of the systemic struggles for homeless youth in America, you also feel like you haven’t been watching a documentary at all, but rather a compelling fictionalised drama. This documentary shatters the preconceptions it creates early in its runtime, and delivers an astounding piece of filmmaking. You’ll be left wanting to know more about what happened to the kids in the documentary - about what happened to those who died, and those who lived. And perhaps the greatest achievement of this piece is that it not only convinces you that there is a very great chance they will fall victim to murder, drugs or health issues and die before you can find out, there's also a chance that the indomitable nature of their human spirit will let them grit their teeth and pull themselves up into normalised society on sheer force of will alone, against a system designed to keep them down. It’s a documentary that gives you both saddening understanding, and unbridled hope. 


American Street Kid is a rare gem.