After developing a skill for filmmaking, a Hanford teen who knows firsthand the struggles the local homeless face wanted to use his talents to show there are real people beneath the dirt and grime.
"I know there's a lot of people who look down on [the homeless] and think they're dirty, disgusting and the scum of the earth," said Matt Macedo, a 17-year-old senior at Hanford High School. "Those people always wonder, ‘Why don't they just go get a job?'
"Well, I want to show with this film I made that sometimes that's harder than it seems to turn your life around, and that the homeless have souls and are some of the most giving people I know," Macedo said. "I also wanted to do this because I have been in their shoes. My mom, my brother and I were all once homeless."
Macedo, using only his iPod, filmed a 17-minute documentary titled "Homeless in Hanford." He filmed interviews with people living in tents behind CVS Pharmacy on 11th Avenue near Highway 198.
"One day, my mom and I were out donating clothes and we went behind the CVS and we met this really nice guy named Chris," Macedo said. "We started talking and he was telling me about how he used to work for the IRS, and while we were talking, a light bulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘I need to be filming this, because it would make for a great documentary.'
"And then all of a sudden he said, ‘You know, you should be filming this,' without ever knowing the same thought had just crossed my mind," Macedo said. "So that reassured me that that was what I am supposed to do and what I need to do."
Macedo filmed interviews with Chris and several others living in the area. Some he had known before from giving them food and clothing, while others he had never met until he began filming.
"I was always very careful; I never spoke with or approached those who were using drugs or didn't want to speak - for my own safety and theirs," he said.
Robin Ludden, Macedo's mother, said she had only a few reservations about her son's project.
"Naturally, as a mom, you're concerned about their safety," she said. "But these were people we knew and trusted and had already established relationships with. I actually encouraged Matt to continue filming, because I think its a story that needs to be told. I know what these people are feeling and going through. I have been there."
Ludden explained that years ago, when Macedo was still an infant, she was living in Southern California and was a paramedic, doing pretty well. But she soon fell in with the wrong crowd, became heavily addicted to drugs and lost everything.
"I was raising my kids on the ocean in a tent," Ludden said. "Until one day I had enough - I threw the tent in the water, packed up my kids and decided to make a change."
Ludden starting taking small jobs here and there and eventually was able to afford a one-bedroom apartment for her and her two children.
"It was a horrible, roach-infested place, but much better than a tent," she said. "Then I moved to Kingsburg, and then eventually moved here in 2008. I have been completely drug free and clean for 17 years now."
Ludden said that because of her experiences, she taught her children to always volunteer and give back.
"Which is why I am so proud of what Matt is doing," she said.
Macedo said his interest in filmmaking began when he was 12, when he taught himself to write his own script.
"I started working on the script for my film ‘Envision' when I was 12, and just recently finished it and so I'm working on finding producers so I can get it made," he said. "I have also written a script for another film called ‘Dream,' I filmed ‘Homeless In Hanford,' and I also wrote, directed and starred in a psychological horror film called ‘Embrace,' which I just had a release party for."
Ludden said she is blown away by her son's talent and will do anything to help him succeed.
"He does this all on his own; on top of his chores and all of his homework from school," she said. "He's a very good kid, he never goes out and never parties. All he does is work and work and work. He'd be up all night filming and writing, if I didn't come in and tell him to go to sleep.
"So, I see that this is his passion and calling," she said, "and I am going to help him in whatever way I can. Whatever he needs, I'll get it."
Macedo said "Embrace" has been his most interesting project so far. He got a few acting friends from the Los Angeles area to be in his cast and shot on location in Cambria.
"A family friend of ours, who helped my mom through a time of need by giving us a place to stay and a job cleaning her house, is also the inventor of the Bump-It hair accessory," Macedo said. "She has become very rich off of that and now owns Greystone Manor in Cambria (a 1928 Tudor home on 1.3 acres). It's a sort of creepy mansion that is perfect for a horror movie. So, when she heard I was making ‘Embrace,' she offered her place as a location to film, which was awesome."
After filming wrapped and Macedo had edited the movie, he and his mother held a viewing party in their backyard. They invited friends and neighbors and some of the actors from L.A.
"It was really fun and turned out well," Macedo said.
But "Homeless In Hanford" remains Macedo's favorite film, because he said it means so much to him personally.
"I feel so connected to those people," he said. "My mom and I keep in touch with them. We knew the guy who died recently because of alcohol withdrawals and exposure to the cold. And as for Chris, it turned out he had warrants for his arrest. My documentary exposed his location and he was taken into custody.
"But, it was a blessing in disguise. It turns out Chris was very ill and near death and if he hadn't been arrested, he would have never received the medical treatment he needed," Macedo said. "We still talk and he's grateful for everything."
Macedo has also found another way to give back through sales of his DVD of "Embrace."
"I'm charging $5 for each DVD, but a portion of the proceeds is being donated to CASA of Kings and Tulare Counties," he said. "It's just so important to give back and help others. Even the homeless people I know do it, and they have nothing.
"In my interviews, I would see them dig through and give away their best-looking food to others," he said. "That, right there, shows that these are good, decent human beings. They are just in a very rough spot right now."
The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or bsantiago@HanfordSentinel.com.