Update: Since we first posted this story, the Nightlight Cinema (30 N. High Street in Akron) has added six additional screenings of "Inside Akron's Tent City." Note that the original 6:30 p.m. screenings on May 11 and 12 are sold out. Here is the list of new show times:

• 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 10 

• 2:15 p.m. Saturday, May 11

• 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 12

• 8:15 p.m. Monday, May 13

• 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14

• 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16

 

Tent City, the former makeshift homeless camp in Akron, provoked a lot of attention from activists, journalists and city officials. Now it is the subject of a documentary.

“Inside Akron’s Tent City – Episode 1 – A Different Kind of Shelter” will have its world premiere Thursday night in the Cleveland International Film Festival.

“I had planned to do a 10-minute video about Tent City, but two days before we started filming, the city voted to close it,” director Kevin Naughton said. “So all of a sudden we had more of a story on our hands.”

The camping area behind Sage Lewis’ property at 15 Broad St. in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood started welcoming the homeless in January 2017 as Second Chance Village, and grew to hold more than 40 people. It was run by the nonprofit Homeless Charity and was finally shut down for good in early January of this year.

Naughton and two crew members started shooting there last September using his iPhone7 Plus.

“We’ve got long hair, tattoos and stuff,” Naughton said. “I think people were like, ‘Who are these weird, punky dudes who want to ask us questions on their cellphone?’ But once they saw what we were really doing, they opened up to us. We went there a total of four times.”

Naughton and his crew spoke with Lewis, the Tent City residents and city officials wrestling with more long-term solutions.

“When we got all the footage back, we realized we had a lot more than we had planned on,” Naughton said. They decided to release the film in seven- and eight-minute chunks as a web series.

Lewis is a compelling presence in the documentary. He said the origins of the camp were simple.

“The thing I did was not say no,” he says in the film. “I came out one day and there were three tents in my backyard. And then, I just went inside.” In trying to describe the folks living on his property, he says, “These are hardcore people. They are not lazy. You would die if you were lazy.”

“Episode 1” is a short documentary. There are six episodes in all and a longer, 40-minute version will be shown at Akron’s Nightlight Cinema in May. Those screenings will include a panel discussion slated to feature Lewis, Naughton, Jason Dunlap, the film’s interviewer/narrator, and Akron City Council member Zack Milkovich.

The Nightlight screenings on May 11 and 12 are sold out. "They sold out in two days," said Brittany Dobish, the Nightlight's artistic director. "This is a really sensitive topic for people." There may be additional screenings, but those have yet to be announced.

"We're excited to have the film playing here," Dobish said. "This is a chance for Akron to see us not only as their independent theater, but also as a place to engage in broader topics, and do it through the broader spectrum that film can provide."

Studied at UA

Naughton, 30, writes for PressureLife magazine and lives in Lakewood. He grew up in Mentor and Perry and spent four years in Akron when he was studying anthropology at the University of Akron. He has also spent years playing bass in The Suede Brothers.

“We were a heavy kind of Black Sabbath-y, Nirvana-type band," he said. "Some people called it ‘stoner rock.’ We opened for Alice Cooper once. We opened for Third Eye Blind. We still play once in a while.”

Naughton started making videos for PressureLife a few years ago. He has made other short films, but this is the first one accepted by the Cleveland festival.

His documentary will play at 9:20 p.m. Thursday as part of  “Local Heroes Program 2” with other Northeast Ohio-related shorts, including “But First …,” “Nance,” and “Relationship Deli.”

Naughton said that making “Tent City” had a profound effect on him.

“So many of our stereotypes of the homeless were just shattered in the first hour of filming,” he said. “We were overwhelmed. I cried while I was there. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.”

 

Clint O’Connor can be reached at 330-996-3582 or coconnor@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.