Before it touched cultures and continents around the world, Alan Govenar’s latest documentary started in Dallas, with Bill and Vicki Gies.
Govenar met the married couple in 2018, when they were part of a docent program for a temporary photography exhibit at the Stewpot, a Dallas shelter and resource center for the unhoused. Bill and Vicki are educated but were displaced by heath issues and other personal circumstances. They were living in a makeshift shelter near White Rock Lake at the time, and connected specifically with the theme of the collection, called Looking for Home.
They were enthusiastic when Govenar wanted to film them talking about the meaning of home in their lives, considering permanent shelter remained elusive.
“They were very honest about their life and sharing what they felt,” he said. “They’re so much in love with each other and found a home together.”
A year later, the longtime Dallas filmmaker and writer endured a health scare and a major surgery and reconsidered his own perspective.
“I started thinking a lot about the idea of home, and about Bill and Vicki and our experience together,” Govenar said. “I could have died, and the whole idea of home became very important to me. I started asking people about the meaning of home in their lives. The more people I asked, the more answers I got.”
“I wanted to talk to other people around the world from places I had been,” Govenar said. “Other parts of this started to piece together, and it just evolved. We amassed a tremendous amount of material.”
Govenar made a previous documentary about homelessness, Serving Second Chances, almost a decade ago. But this time he wanted to broaden the focus to include a diverse group of people across the socioeconomic spectrum, from a college student in Argentina to a hot dog vendor in New York to an artist in Kenya.
Of course, the pandemic caused him to pivot after March 2020; he was filming in New York as the first COVID-19 case was discovered there. Instead of shutting down, Govenar encouraged some of his subjects to submit video diaries.
Once pandemic restrictions lifted, Govenar shot much of the footage cinema verité-style on his phone in cities ranging from Dallas to Paris to Venice.
“For most people, home is a place of safety and warmth and love. People take comfort in home. But that’s not always the case,” he said. “It started to coalesce as I started broadening the scope of people I was talking to. I was delighted that people responded so well to it.”
Govenar hopes Looking for Home, which is expected to be available on streaming platforms early next year, will inspire a sense of self-reflection and unity.
“My hope is that when people finish watching the movie, they connect deeper within themselves with what home means to them,” Govenar said. “Perhaps it will help people to become more open to the different views of home that others have. In such a divided world, this is an area where we can psychologically join hands. We all cherish the idea of home. I feel that in the end, it’s hopeful.”