Vineyard filmmakers Len and Georgia Morris of Galen Films have framed the issue of street children with poignant immediacy in their new film “Rescuing Emmanuel.” The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society and Media Voices for Children will present this compelling documentary on Tuesday, August 3, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.
A panel of Island children’s activists will discuss local efforts to alleviate the problem of at-risk children as part of the evening’s presentation. They include Laurie Perry-Henry of Edgartown, president of the M.V. NAACP; Oak Bluffs harbormaster Todd Alexander, founder of Family to Family Cambodia; Margaret Penicaud of Tisbury, of the M.V. Fish Farm for Haiti Project; and filmmaker Georgia Morris of Vineyard Haven, speaking for the Kenya Education Fund.
The statistics on children who live on the street are shocking: 100 million worldwide, one million in the U.S. They all struggle to find food, and 90 percent sniff glue to fight the cold and forget their miseries.
Mr. and Ms. Morris began examining the problems of children more than 10 years ago when they began work on “Stolen Childhood,” their 2005 film about child labor. They returned to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006 to visit the coffee plantation children they had interviewed in “Stolen Childhood” and funded schooling for. Additionally, they started working on a second documentary about street children, when they met Emmanuel, a 13-year-old boy with no identification and no real family.
“He rose up out of the streets and hijacked the project,” says Mr. Morris. Wily and resourceful, Emmanuel latched onto Ms. Morris and talked about wanting to go to school.
He was hard work to be around, the definition of a nobody — a social outcast all but abandoned by society. One of the iconic images in “Rescuing Emmanuel” is of Emmanuel and many other street children in Nairobi, Mexico, and other parts of the world with a bottle of yellow liquid hanging off their mouths. The substance is glue, the toxic ingredients of which give them an ultimately brain-damaging high.
As “Rescuing Emmanuel” narrates the story of this persistent, eager boy, the viewers hear from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, and others on how serious is the plight of street children. Half Nairobi’s population lives in slums without sanitation or drainage. AIDS has orphaned one million children in Kenya alone.
Street children there and across the world sell their bodies for food or work as mules for drug dealers. They are beaten by the police and tossed into holding cells, where they are apt to be raped or murdered.
Determined to help Emmanuel, the Morrises arrange for him to live and go to school at the Hurum Children’s Home run by Mama Zipporah and founded by her late husband Isaac Kamau. Finding Emmanuel, who has been accused of stealing a TV, is not so easy.
Miraculously, he does appear, gets cleaned up, and is found free of AIDS and other common street diseases. He lasts at the home for two months before ending up back on the streets.
“Every day on the street feels like an emergency,” Mr. Morris says. His wife describes filming homeless children in Washington, D.C., practically at the steps of the White House.
“A key piece of activism is learning the scope of the problem,” Mr. Morris points out. “Children don’t have high-priced lobbyists. They are wholly dependent on adults.”
“We’re hoping that a lot of people will come and buy tickets,” says Ms. Morris. Part of the screening proceeds will go to Media Voices for Children, a website funded by a showing of “Rescuing Emmanuel” last year at the Capawock Theatre.
In addition to the panel discussion with the film, there will be tables with information and donation forms for the participating organizations. “People can learn about the work being done on the Island and be inspired,” say the Morrises. “You don’t have to go to Africa to be an activist.”
The good news about Emmanuel is that he did get into another rehabilitation center and at last report was going to school there.
Also playing this week is “The Jazz Baroness,” the fascinating story of Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the Park Avenue Rothschild heiress who befriended Thelonius Monk and other jazz greats. It will play on Sunday, August 1 at the M.V. Hebrew Center as part of the Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute program featuring the best of the Boston Jewish Film Festival. There will be no M.V. Film Festival screening on Wednesday, August 4.
“Rescuing Emmanuel,” Tuesday, August 3, 8 pm, Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs. $8; $5 children, seniors and MVFS members.
“The Jazz Baroness,” Sunday, August 1, 7:30 pm, M.V. Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. $15.