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Kingsport filmmaker releases documentary on homelessness

Holly Viers • May 3, 2020 at 1:30 PM

KINGSPORT — For Stephen Newton, a project three years in the making has come to fruition.

Newton, an independent filmmaker and Kingsport resident, recently premiered his feature-length documentary called “One Night in January: Counting the Cost of Homelessness.”

Filmed and edited between 2016 and 2019, the film explores the question, “Why are millions of Americans experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness in the wealthiest country in the world?”

“I really believe that awareness precedes change. … Honestly, I didn’t really know we had the huge problem that we did until 2016,” Newton said. “Most Americans are still kind of unaware of just how devastating it is.”

How many films have you made?

“One Night in January” is Newton’s second feature-length documentary. His first, called “Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection,” was released in 2014 and focuses on “mass incarceration and the high recidivism rate,” Newton said.

“Outcasts” can be viewed online at cultureofrejection.org. Newton has also released a short film called “116 West Walnut Street” about The Manna House, which provides permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless men in Johnson City.

How did the film come about?

Newton began filming “One Night in January” in 2016 after visiting The Manna House and meeting with some of the homeless, who opened his eyes to the issue.

“The more research I did,” Newton said, “the more I became aware that, ‘Wow, we’ve really got a big problem.’ ”

The 54-minute film features interviews with a number of experts, religious leaders, psychologists, homeless people and representatives from organizations like The Manna House and the Appalachian Regional Council on Homelessness (ARC). National thought leaders like Dr. Noam Chomsky and Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, are also featured.

What was the filming process like?

Newton said most of the filming took place in Tennessee, specifically in Knoxville, Nashville and this region. Some filming also took place in Washington, Los Angeles and Boston.

“I began shooting the film in 2016, and I began editing the film about five months ago,” Newton said. “So I essentially wrapped up filming in 2019 and started editing it, and I just released it online because of the pandemic.”

Newton added that the process was like a full-time job, from the start of filming until the film’s release.

“Once I made up my mind that I was going to do a full-length feature, I had to do a lot of research, and then it was a matter of contacting lots and lots of experts,” Newton said. “Then I spent quite a bit of time just out on the streets talking with homeless people, both in this area and Nashville and other places.”

How can people watch?

The film is available for viewing online at thehomelesscount.org. The film has also been preselected by a couple of film festivals across the country, and Nashville Public Television is reviewing the film for possible inclusion on its programming schedule, Newton said.

“When people see it, if they like it, I would really like them to share the link,” Newton said. “I self-funded this movie myself from my own resources … but the only thing I ask out of it is that someone share the link, if they like the film and think it would enlighten someone else.”

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