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‘Lives Behind the Labels’ fights the single story stigma

The documentary shares a new perspective on the unhoused
Cover art for the “Lives Behind the Labels” film produced by Chico locals. Courtesy of Christopher Smith.

The “Lives Behind the Labels” documentary tells the story of six — and soon to be seven — unhoused people living in Chico. 

This film shows how each individual — Marcus, Debra, Christine, Cecelia, Arya, Faith — express themselves through their art and while they all have one thing in common, their stories are vastly different. 

“A friend of mine, Christine MacShane, contacted me because she wanted to do this project having to do with people who lived without housing, doing art and kind of communicating their experiences in non-obvious ways,” filmmaker Christopher Smith said. 

It was an extensive shooting and editing process, but Smith is content with the way the documentary turned out and how it pieced together. 

“Somewhere in the hundreds of hours … it was more than just shooting interviews and cutting them together,” he said. “It was finding the thread that connected all of them other than ‘hey they’re all battling homelessness …’”

Once they finished the documentary, they aired it for the first time at the Museum of Northern California Art on March 7. The opening night, 260 people showed up to attend the event, including the individuals presented in the film. 

“It was a lot of tears,” Smith said. “I was mainly talking to the people I included and they were very appreciative of it and moved by it.” 

The exhibit was available at the MONCA from March 7 to 17. Along with the film, there was artwork created by the individuals in the film and interactive pieces within the exhibit. 

“I thought it was an incredibly interesting exhibit and I think everyone should view the effects of homelessness,” Melina McKee said. “I enjoyed hearing from people in our own community and how Chico is offering to help them through difficult situations. I hope this exhibit reduces the stigma around homelessness by looking at different viewpoints.”

Smith believes this documentary could help make a difference not only in the Chico community, but elsewhere too. He stated when it comes to the unhoused, people tend to always think one thing when in reality it’s so much more than that. 

“… there’s a giant chunk of the population that has legitimate serious mental problems that prevents them from managing their lives in a way that they can have a home,” he said. “Then there’s people that everythings fine, but maybe there was some tragedy and they got into substance abuse and by the time they got themselves out, they were just in a tough spot. Then there’s people that just got unlucky, they don’t have a family or they don’t have certain resources, they lose the wrong job at the wrong time …”

MacShane and Smith hope to be able to keep sharing these individuals’ stories at different film festivals and even on television. 

“The feedback we’ve got has been tremendously satisfying so we are thinking about getting it onto television, into film festivals and we might try to get it into Sundance, but we’re really looking into stuff,” Smith said.

They are showing an extended cut of the documentary at the Pageant Theater on Thursday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. The film will start at the listed time, tickets are $5 and it is a one-night-only viewing. 

Jenna McMahon can be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Jenna McMahon
Jenna McMahon, Multimedia Editor
Jenna McMahon transferred to Chico State in fall 2023 from Santa Barbara City College and is in her third-year as a journalism major as well as having added a global studies minor this year. This will be her first year on The Orion as the opinion editor having had past experience on The Channels at SBCC. After graduating she hopes to become a traveling journalist and hopefully work for National Geographic. In her free time she plays soccer for the club team at Chico State and loves to read, travel and anything to do with nature.

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