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GIFFONI EXPERIENCE 2014 - 18.27 July

Sections & Films


Category: Edition 2014


James ran away from his parents’ home because they didn’t accept that he is gay. He tries to find refuge in San Francisco with his boyfriend, Tyler. They thought they would find a community in the world’s gay Mecca. Instead, they end up sleeping in a park and panhandling in the city’s gay neighbourhood. They find themselves stranded in a world of homeless people and the community of other kicked-out queer youth. Eventually, James has to face his past and the place he has left behind. AMERICAN VAGABOND is a coming of age story of a gay boy growing up in a small town in America. It’s a story about a family coming to grips with what it fears the most.

Category Official Competition
Section GEx Doc
Tipology Documentary, Feature Film
Duration 85’
Production Year 2013
Nationality Denmark, Finland, USA
Directed by Susanna Helke
Director of photography Susanna Helke, Marko Luukkonen
Editor Niels Pagh Andersen
Sound Olli Huhtanen
Music Samuli Kosminen
Produced by Cilla Werning

Susanna HelkeSusanna Helke

Born 1967, Finland. Her films are poetic reflections of the transcendence found in everyday moments in the lives of ordinary people. The films play with the borders of documentary and fiction, observational and re-enacted documentary. She co-directed, along with Virpi Suutari, the documentaries THE SIN (SYNTI - DOKUMENTTI JOKAPÄIVÄISISTÄ RIKOKSISTA, 1996), WHITE SKY (VALKOINEN TAIVAS, 1998), SOUPDEALER’S SUNDAY (SAIPPUAKAUPPIAAN SUNNUNTAI, 1999), THE IDLE ONES (JOUTILAAT, 2001, which received a nomination for the 2001 European Film Award for Best Documentary), ALONG THE ROAD LITTLE CHILD (PITKIN TIETÄ PIENI LAPSI, 2005). She alone directed the documentary short film PLAYGROUND (LEIKKIPUISTO, 2006), and AMERICAN VAGABOND.


Director’s statement

“When I was visiting San Francisco for the first time, someone told me that there were shelters intended especially for young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth living on the streets. The concept puzzled me. Why, in America’s gay Mecca, were young queers living in shelters?”.
“A survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for Homelessness, published in 2007, revealed the epidemic nature of homelessness among young queers in the United States. Twenty to forty percent of homeless youth living in big cities belong to sexual minorities. The homophobia of family members or foster care parents is the main reason they leave home. Teens are coming out at younger ages but many of them end up in a conflict with their families. They run away to big cities to seek the support of the gay community”.
“The one essential American and global civil rights struggle of the 21st century is the fight for the rights of sexual minorities. The ‘marriage war’ has re-politicized not only the queer movement but also the whole issue of homosexuality. The ice is rapidly melting as state after state legalizes same-sex marriage, but whenever a change happens it causes recoil”.
“The homeless queer youth do not participate in gay marriage marches, and they don’t campaign for their societal rights. They have no society. They have been twice abandoned. They have fled their families or their families have discarded them. They have come to their own people in the promised city, but their people do not welcome them cluttering their streets. Particularly not now, as they fervently strive to take their place at the table with ‘normal’ middle-class America”.
“I wanted to make a film, which, in a poetic manner, would reflect the issue of homelessness among queer youth. I wanted to show the romantic icon of a gay vagabond in a new light. After getting to know James and Tyler, and eventually after getting to know James’s family, the story of the film took it’s own course. I wasn’t just dealing with “the issue” anymore. I had to learn once again how reality is always much more nuanced and complicated than political rhetoric”.



For Real Productions
Työpajankatu 10A, 00580 Helsinki - Finland
phone +358 415109882
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festival contact

The Finnish Film Foundation
Kanavakatu 12, 2nd Floor, FI-00160 Helsinki - Finland
phone +358 962203019
fax +358 962203050
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