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average rating is 4 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

May 3, 2024

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Stacey Stone
Written by:
Stacey Stone
Kenny Harris

California’s homelessness crisis is an issue that UK audiences may be only passingly familiar with, but the Golden State’s problems with housing, drugs and destitution have been an ongoing concern for some time in the US. Stacey Stone and Diane Mellen’s documentary short Kenny follows a man who does not easily fit into any of the traditional categories of how people end up on the street, and makes for a heartwarming if still concerning look at how people cope in the crisis and find freedom outside of tradition.


The film uses a mixture of documentary footage and rotoscope animation to tell the story of Kenny, a 72-year-old man with the beard of a sage who lives on the streets of Santa Barbara. Kenny describes his living circumstances as a freedom, and despite difficulties he takes his life in his stride without need for sympathy. Yet for all his embrace of what life has dealt, the elements take their toll – particularly when flash-floods strike the state.


Kenny is a strange and moving short film that balances contradictions and complex issues and questions around homelessness to present a thoughtful picture of its subject. The directors keep the focus on Kenny’s story – how he came to end up ‘living free’ and how he maintains a life on the streets, without explicitly targeting homelessness as a societal issue or crisis. Perhaps it is more self-explanatory to its US target-audience, however to UK viewers some of the political debate may go over heads. Whilst it is lacking from the film – the purpose is made quite clear in the title: the film is about Kenny. Whilst outside issues are significant to his story, the director’s decision to pursue a defined focus on him holds its own power, and a message that for how long the issue has persisted, it forces those who suffer from homelessness to persist as well.


The flash-flood storms that strike during filming are an excellent test for how effectively the directors have created a sense of concern for the elderly subject of the documentary. The moment comes as a terrifying twist which sparks concern within the film itself for Kenny’s safety. As devastating as the incident was, it is something of a lucky break for the filmmakers that something so strikingly representative of the dangers homeless people could face at any time happens during filming. The floods act as a symbol of Kenny’s perseverance and strength, whilst indicating vulnerability at the same time. The short shots we have of the man huddling under a bridge for shelter are amongst the most moving in the film.


At only ten minutes, Kenny eloquently and emotionally taps into the realities of homelessness. Whilst there are doubtless many Kennys out there – survivors who turn down sympathy out of pride, freedom, anger of more – the reality is that homelessness as an epidemic is something that threatens lives and damages communities. Stone and Mellen’s film is highly recommended for this reason, with an uplifting human story a powerful additional one.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Short Film
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