Take One Action Film Festival delivers the hidden worlds of abandoned youth in Elegance Bratton’s desolate documentary PIER KIDS. Bratton’s documentary will pull you in from the onset, unlike many from filmmakers that step in front of the lens. Bratton’s back seat approach to storytelling is the model that allows the backstreets of New York City to resonate in our memories long after the credits roll.
With Covid-19 trapping many of us at home, it could be said to be a lonely year for many; people far from their families urgently waiting by the news for some semblance of normality to return. PIER KIDS is a hard-hitting reminder that we are yet to find the cure for an age-old epidemic that continues to divide families all around the world: prejudice. Bratton’s documentary follows a frequently homeless and impoverished sector of the LGBTQ+ community who survive next to the Christopher Street Pier. Within the many cameos, bisexual man; Casper, trans woman; Krystal LaBeija, and gay man; DeSean Irby share their stories adjacent to the street that held the first Gay Pride march decades ago.
PIER KIDS is a difficult documentary to digest, from Krystal’s mother and auntie misgendering her, to DeSean’s desire to be infected with HIV so the state can house him. The subject matters within Bratton’s PIER KIDS are very close to the bone, but he refrains from using his lens to be exploitative; instead, he allows his documentary to be led by the anecdotes of the community that materialise by the pier moon. Bratton often leaves the camera to absorb the chatter without nuance; leaving it to the roll through the tales of theft for survival, the realities of financially-driven sex work and the odd Wall Street collar who rattles through uninformed comments about race and ethnicity. The collision between the two New York Cities begins to take shape.
Bratton is quick to dissolve the Western illusion of modern pride, wherever we stand within the LGBTQ+ community, whether as a member or an ally to the movement. For many white members and onlookers, it’s easy to be sucked into the utopian advertisement of the new world, with rainbow flags hanging from the high street as well as the side-street queer scene where they were first erected. Still, for many LGBTQ+ people of colour, their reality has never echoed the same charm. PIER KIDS illuminates the disheartening truth that while the LGBTQ+ community radiates a collective spirit; the experiences for ethnic minorities who have come out are heterogeneous.
PIER KIDS is reminiscent of KIDS (1995); much like Korine’s script, we are exposed to the dark corners of the streets that guide the way into adulthood. However, unlike Larry Clark’s exploratory tale of the ‘90s generation where the threat of HIV infection is the highest burden to bear: Bratton exposes the flip-side of the coin, in which many have to sacrifice their health for a faint chance of security and solace. It could be argued that their connection runs much deeper than the adult-wired view of teenage hedonism, or the nostalgia of the skate scene. Instead, Bratton seems to illustrate that the films of directors like Clark, who have been criticised for their sensationalist, graphic depictions of youth; have always been closer to cinéma vérité than exploitation film.
Elegance Bratton’s PIER KIDS gives forgotten LGBTQ+ people a voice that shatters the illusion of progression and simultaneously demands society looks closer at disadvantaged LGBTQ+ youth. Only then can we dissolve the racial and global divides between those who have sailed to liberation, and those who have fallen victim to segregation. If there’s one thing which Bratton’s documentary illuminates it is that at the end of each pride march, not everyone has someone waiting with open arms at the end.