The online frenzy over the Kony 2012 film that went viral a few weeks ago may have died down, but another issue-based short has just reached computer screens. The Truth About Stanley was released online last Wednesday with the aim of highlighting the issue of homelessness in the UK. The 20-minute feature, directed by the 26-year-old Lucy Tcherniak, focuses on the fictional friendship between Stanley, an elderly Congolese man, and Sam, a young boy on the run from a life of domestic abuse.
The first time Sam (Raif Clarke) sets eyes on Stanley (Oliver Litondo), he is dancing among the crowds of central London. Walking stick in one hand, can of lager in the other, he is the ubiquitous rough-sleeper we give a wide berth to on the streets every day. However, for young Sam, Stanley becomes a safe berth in an unsafe world, and a source of both adoration and frustration. At first he is enthralled by Stanley's evocative stories of life in the Congo, but he gradually becomes sceptical about their truth.
The film's narrative relies for its tension on the tug between fantasy and reality, and the uncertain veracity of Stanley's stories makes us question his friendship with Sam. If Stanley's stories are not real, what is? Tcherniak, who wrote the film with Neil Westley, clearly believes that, on the cold streets of London, a wild imagination is crucial to survival. Stanley tells stories to distract both himself and his new friend from the sheer awfulness of life on the street.
The young runaway's confusion is reflected in the film's somewhat chaotic structure. The chronology flits between past, present and future to such an extent that we don't know whether we are flashing back or forward. But Tcherniak manages to prevent this from disrupting the plot because of the simplicity with which the film is shot. The camera draws in and out from the two main characters, hardly registering their surroundings. The Chopinesque piano score by the composer Jon Opstad, interspersed with sounds of birdsong or roaring wind, suggests something akin to beauty in Stanley and Sam's unlikely friendship.
With homelessness in the UK up 14 per cent in 2011 on the previous year, The Truth About Stanley was made with a view to raising funds as well as awareness. The website asks for donations as small as £2 to the Big Issue Foundation and a London hostel. Will it work? At the very least, Tcherniak's touching film is a novel approach to charity outreach that just might open a new chapter in The Big Issue's story.