By Heather Stone
Made on a shoestring budget, restricted to a 10-mile filming radius, and starring people most Denverties walk past every day, the impact of “Right To Rest” may far outweigh its size.
“Right to Rest” is a documentary co-written, co-directed, and co-funded by Sarah Megyesy and Guillermo Roques. It has screened throughout Denver the past three months, including at sold-out showings at the Sie Film Center and Alamo Draft House. The documentary focuses on the Right to Survive (previously Right to Rest), a countermeasure against Denver’s camping ban, which was made law in 2012.
The film follows the stories of residents of “Beloved Community Village,” the tiny-house community that sprung from frustration with the city’s lack of shelter and blossomed into a movement challenging conceptions of how to confront homelessness. As residents and local activism group Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) fight for the “Right To Survive” (Initiative 300), set to appear on the May ballot, the documentary traces their journey alongside its tumultuous history.
The Denver VOICE caught up with Megyesy and Roques to talk about the film itself and next steps for making this initiative successful.
Denver VOICE: This bill has appeared in some form four times already and failed to pass each time. That must be incredibly frustrating. What feels different this time around, if anything?
Sarah MEGYESY: The difference this time around is that it’s not a bill, but rather an initiative. The bill has been taken to a state committee to vote on for the last four years, but this time it’s up to the voters of Denver. That’s a huge difference.
DV: Why do you think the camping ban has been so hard to fight?
SM: Downtown businesses are worried that having people experiencing homelessness around their establishment will hurt their business. Businesses and people with money are hard to fight.
Guillermo Roques: There are a lot of economic interests behind the ban. Also, there is some general misunderstanding. People won’t stop camping outside unless they have a place to sleep. As Terese [Howard, from Denver Homeless Out Loud] says, covering yourself with a blanket is a basic survival act and you’ll do it even if there is a law against it. The only difference is that this ban criminalizes that action and moves people away to unsafe places.
DV: There are so many moving parts here: there’s the camping ban, the (lack of) development with the Beloved Community Village, the evolution of opiate addiction in Denver, continued gentrification, etcetera. How have things changed since you started filming?
SM: We began filming in March of 2017 right before the Beloved Community Village began construction. Because of where the village is located, the biggest change I witnessed as far as the city goes is the transformation of Five Points/RiNo District. There were shifts happening before 2017, but being in that area either going to the village or going to the Denver Homeless Out Loud office, I saw weekly change. That area to me represents Denver’s gentrification, as we mention in the film.
GR: Honestly, things remain more or less the same. The success of the BCV [Beloved Community Village] brought some hope, but there is still much more work to do. Denver is still heading towards a city where money is more important than people. There needs to be some change in peoples’ minds (which might be already occurring), which ultimately translates into political change.
DV: What are the best ways people can support this cause and this bill? Aside from voting, of course.
SM: Visit denverrighttosurvive.org for information on how to get involved, to donate, and to learn more. Spread the word about [Initiative] 300, tell people what it is and why you will be voting yes on it.
GR: Getting involved in any way possible. Educate people around you. Have conversations about these issues.
DV: When people come to see the film, what are things you’d like them to keep in mind or look out for?
SM: I’d like them to keep in mind the reasons why we have mass homelessness, that it’s not an individual problem, but a systemic problem. Also, I’d like [viewers] to keep a look out for the camping ban in action. Now when they drive down Park Ave through the Triangle and they see cops around, they know that they are likely there enforcing the camping ban. Prior to this film they may have thought something that reinforces negative stereotypes.
GR: We think the film doesn’t try to give all the answers to such a complex problem as the housing crisis in Denver or homelessness. However, it tries to show it from the point of view of those directly facing those challenges in a way that doesn’t usually get portrayed in the general media. In that sense, if they try to find the final solution for homelessness, they might be disappointed. However, they can meet genuine, amazing people and have a slightly different perspective on homelessness and its roots.
DV: What has been the most frustrating or challenging part of making this film? Not the activism, but the film itself?
SM: It was challenging to make this film with no money. Of course, as a filmmaker you wish you could work full-time on the project you care a lot for and want to create. Working full-time on it gives you more time, more chance to dive deep and explore. Guillermo and I are lucky that we have flexible jobs schedule-wise, but we were still carrying a huge workload.
GR: We were able to finish this film in a little bit over a year and without any money, crew or resources. Sarah and I were covering each other. In that sense, it was frustrating leaving the documentary and picking it back up after a month or a few weeks, as things change so fast. We think there are many stories that we couldn’t include, and couldn’t get as deep as we would have wanted.
DV: The film has an almost dreamy look and feel to it. What are the themes you were looking to evoke with the production?
GR: I always told Sarah that I would like the documentary to look more like a podcast or radio show than a documentary. This film has many different voices, which makes it challenging. However, it’s also its biggest strength. This is an ongoing conversation about poverty, justice, or community. So we wanted to keep this conversation going on in the background, even when the movie had ended. In that sense, most of the sequences end with a voice slowly fading out. ■
Visit facebook.com/TheR2RFilm to find upcoming screenings of the documentary.