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'Inocente' Explores The Dark Side Of Childhood


Finally, this hour, have you ever heard a story about homeless children that wasn't a grim, dark bummer?


BLOCK: A great deal of Inocente's life has been grim and dark, but the teenager with her clothes, her makeup and most importantly her art lives almost exclusively in bright colors despite all of her hardships.

Filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and her husband, Sean Fine, have been nominated for an Oscar for their short documentary titled "Inocente." My co-host Audie Cornish talked with Sean Fine about the story of this remarkably upbeat young woman.

SEAN FINE: What drew us to Inocente is that Andrea and I were looking for a story that do about homelessness, especially about kids. We read a statistic that said one in 45 kids will experience homelessness at some point in their life in the United States. And we thought that was pretty staggering. And so we started looking around, and we found an art program in San Diego that works with homeless kids. And they're called A Reason To Survive or ARTS. And the head director, Matt D'Arrigo, said you need to come out here and meet this one girl we have. She's unbelievable. I can't describe her to you. She's been homeless pretty much her whole life and so we...


And we should say, I mean, a little bit of her story. Her father is deported for domestic abuse...

FINE: Yeah.

CORNISH: alcoholic mom, mother of four and who, at one point, threatens suicide. Inocente, also, she represents a kind of homelessness that a lot of people in this economy may be becoming more familiar with.


CORNISH: Tell us more about what you were trying to show us through this character.

FINE: When we first met Inocente and we went to see where she was living, it kind of shocked us because everything was in garbage bags. They were ready to move. They were ready to move at any second. She never has a place to put her clothes. She never has a place to put her head that she can say I know tomorrow when I come home this place is going to be here for me to put my head again.

CORNISH: So how did you see this reflected in her art, or is it the opposite that you're seeing in her art because it's so big and colorful and kind of full of light?

FINE: Well, we saw that reflected in her art is her safe place to go, and it is where she wants to live. And it is full of color and full of light. It's so different. Here's this girl that, on paper, I would expect to be in a gang, maybe be doing drugs, something horrible because she's just had everything in life thrown at her before she's been 15. And yet, she's painting these beautiful, colorful, rich, vibrant paintings. She's throwing her soul onto the canvas in this beautiful way. And I think it's how she sees the world.


FINE: I remember being on a train with her on a trolley, and she was staring out the window. And I was like what are you - what are you always looking at? What are you staring at? And she's like, I'm imagining all these ugly buildings dripping with colors. I'm imagining some of the characters I paint jumping from building to building. And I said, wow, that's amazing. She said, you know, it just helps. It helps with my day.

CORNISH: On top of being a portrait of a young person who's dealing with homelessness, it seems it's also very much a portrait of the artist as a young woman. I mean just the idea of coming to grips with identifying yourself as an artist, especially if you don't come from a family of artists. And was there something about that that you put personally could identify with?

FINE: I mean, I think Andrea and I identify with her as an artist because I'm sure, you know, we see ourselves as artists. But I think it's hard. I don't think Inocente thinks she's an artist yet. I think she's just kind of expressing what's inside of her, which is kind of what I love and what Andrea and I love about making films about kids, is that kids are kids. Kids are so raw. They say how they feel. And Inocente says that in the film, and she shares her story and her life with the audience for the very first time. I mean, she looks right into the camera when she talks about the horrible things that have happened to her. And it's the first time anyone's ever asked her about her story.

CORNISH: What has happened to Inocente since? I mean in the film you leave her having completed a very triumphant art show.

FINE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, Inocente hasn't been, you know, all roses for her since the film has ended. I mean, she moved into a shelter for teenaged kids where she was living on her own. She left. She moved back with her mom. She moved out. But since the film has been made, her art has been selling. She's finally living in her own studio apartment. She's creating her own art on her own, outside of the art program she was part of. You know, she's going to the Oscars as our guest.

I don't know if many former homeless people have walked the red carpet. I am pretty excited. But she's doing really well. She - I just met with her in L.A. a couple of weeks ago, and she said I think I want to go to college, maybe not an art college, and I'm not sure yet, but I'm pretty sure I want to go to college. So I think she's going to have that opportunity once more people see this film.

CORNISH: Well, Sean Fine, thank you so much for sharing this story with us.

FINE: Thank you.

BLOCK: My co-host Audie Cornish was talking with Sean Fine who, along with his wife Andrea Nix Fine, has been nominated for an Oscar for their short documentary "Inocente." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.