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by Alison Willmore
April 5, 2012 12:56 PM
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'Tent City, U.S.A.' Documents The Demise of Nashville's Encampment for the Temporarily Homeless; Tonight on OWN

'Tent City, U.S.A.' Margaret McCombs/OWN
"Tent City, U.S.A.," a documentary from the Oscar-nominated Steven Cantor ("loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies," "Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann") that premieres tonight, April 5th, at 9pm on the OWN network, looks at a tumultuous ten months in a makeshift settlement on the outskirts of Nashville, a city the doc notes has a homeless population 30% higher than the national average.

While it can feel unfocused in terms of structure, the film stays laser-sharp in its point of view, using the residents of Tent City to explore a specific portion of the homeless population that's trying to find work and a way back toward a stable existence. In the struggles of its characters, "Tent City, U.S.A.," highlights just how difficult doing this can be as well, considering the limitations of the structures currently in place to help.

'Tent City, U.S.A.' Steven Cantor/OWN
Located under a bridge on a flood plain owned by the municipal goverment, Tent City has housed a semi-permanent homeless population for around 20 years, and with the help of a local church and organizers within its own community has come up with ways to manage newcomers, to handle security, to even build a heated shower.

The 80-90 residents on the five acre patch at the film's outset are living in homes ranging from tents with tarps to insulated shelters with wood-burning stoves to the shed with electricity and internet being occupied by Wendell, a former construction company owner who lost everything after serving time for driving with a suspended license following a DUI.

But not far into the doc, the residents of Tent City are told the Nashville government needs them to find another location in which to live, and while they're in the process of securing a new spot May's record-breaking 2010 floods leave them under 10 feet of water, destroying much of what they'd built and leaving little to salvage. The film tracks its main characters as the tragedy scatters them to different locations, with some taking up residence in a temporary camping spot on private land volunteered by its owner. It's a remote 15 miles outside of town, but the surrounding residents immediately put up a fight -- footage of the town meeting includes some unpleasant "not in our backyard" confrontations with community leaders.

Some subjects find government housing, though it only offers a temporary solution.
The value of a permanent homeless encampment, along with the reasons why such a thing would be resisted, are underlined by the experiences of some of the prominent Tent City residents and the activists helping them. Some subjects find government housing, though it only offers a temporary solution. Another, providing a burst of uplift, actually gets his own place. (He speaks, poignantly, of having trouble sleeping the first few nights without the sounds of traffic and the camp outside.)

The election of a former Tent City dweller to a spot on the Nashville Homelessness Commission also offers a glimmer of hope that more empathy can be brought to the issue, and that workable longterm solutions could be discussed in a group whose members have otherwise had no experience themselves with being homeless.

"I wish some of them could switch place with us," one man living in the temporary Tent City sighs after community protests against them. "Our door is open. We don't have a door!" "Tent City, U.S.A.," for the most part, succeeds in something close to that desire, to put audiences in the shoes of people in search of a stable place in which they can try to get their lives back together.

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5 Comments

  • Betty | June 3, 2013 3:52 PMReply

    Hi, I really Feel for them or anyone on the streets, etc.Everyone wants to run them off like they are a pleg. I remember when i was Temp out for 6 months, going from family to friends to live. No Fun! Iam unable to work, so i now have Low Income Housing. But they are really strick, let me tell you. And they only go by yr. to yr. They can say any time, your out! So this is for All the BigWigs, Hierarchy,Rich-people,etc. Who dont give to craps, except fo themselfs.Guess what that can Happen to anyone. Rember the Stockmarket that crashed around 1922. Guess who Jumped out windows to their death, yep Rich People, But Poor--people cant get a break. Thanks everyone,.......Remember GOD is Watching......6/3/13

  • lisa | May 1, 2012 11:25 PMReply

    well my sister didnt have to be homeless she gave up her husband kids nice home all for a younger man and now look where she's at . Whe had a wonderful life now she has nothing no kids I dont fell sorry for her and for her to use this to operas attention or anyone else attention Im ashamed and mother would turn over in her grave if she could. Her name is Staey Farley

  • Mark Brown | April 6, 2012 1:29 PMReply

    I ejoyed watching this documentary but I missed most of it because I got

    home late. Is it going to be reshown... when ... what time?

  • Mark Waklick | April 5, 2012 10:20 PMReply

    As a filmmaker you should know what NOBODY is telling you, that.....there was a lawsuit against Sundance, ( fraud and theft of submission fees) They don't watch the films, ( 12,000 films , 6 head programmers) the judge ruled they don't have to. That indiewire and Filmmaker magazine refuse to report this news, because they receive money from Sundance.
    That 7000 film festivals in the U.S. are operating fraudulent business's that are all connected to "without a box" which LEGALLY steals all filmmakers rights, once you have submitted to these film festivals.
    Filmmakers films are selling on Amazon, which they never legally allowed them to sell.
    If you believe in Sundance and that they are in fact interested in "discovering indy films" you had better awaken out of your bubble. Kevin Smiths film is already chosen for Sundance 2013, as are many other films, they have already been chosen. Sundance doesn't watch the films, they steal filmmakers money AND they award their own films! Another Earth, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, are both Sundance films, that won awards AND money!

    For more information about this fraud go to www.sundancefilmfestival2013.com

  • Evan | April 5, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    Thank you OWN for supporting documentaries! Every independent filmmaker and documentarian should be supporting this network which is doing a great thing by creating another outlet to reach viewers with that didn't exist before!