Richard Cohen had polio as a child, a fact he thinks brings a certain awareness to his documentary films. Twenty five years ago, Cohen made Hurry Tomorrow, a film about forced psychiatric treatment and the loss of human rights suffered by inmates of a California state psychiatric hospital. Its brutal images of people strapped down, struggling to maintain their sense of selves against the onslaught of tranquilizer guns fueled an attempt to have it banned. Instead it led to statewide investigations into hospital conditions.
Two years ago, Cohen turned his attentions to the effort of Santa Monica's yuppies to oust homeless residents through a series of increasingly vindictive measures, including an effort to pass a law making it illegal to give anyone food on public property. Taylor's Campaign is the story of homeless Ron Taylor's run for a Santa Monica city council seat.
The point has been made repeatedly that homelessness is the result of a complex of factors, often including disability. The people whose stories and views we hear in Taylor's Campaign are considered throw-aways by most of society, certainly by the two well-dressed men who pontificate to Cohen on film their conviction that "if you can't work and feed yourself in society, then maybe you should starve." Although Cohen's documentary is built around Taylor's run for city council, the larger story is the "war" waged by the haves against the have nots in which Santa Monica's well off try legal means to criminalize homelessness.
Cohen is now distributing both films on his own, on video. "Rather than going to tv directly, or tape release," he says, "I took a different road. I set up shows in a variety of neighborhood locations where people with differing ideas get together, watch Taylor's Campaign and usually join in a lively discussion." He screened the film in bookstores, synagogues, his own living room. Cohen says he's "trying to create an alternative network of exhibition." He lets libraries do public screenings as long as no admission fee is charged. "These shows are beginning to work," he says. "It's been 25 years since Kevin Rafferty and I filmed Hurry Tomorrow. I don't think either one of us had any idea that the film would help to cause so many changes."
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