Two Stark Visions of the American Underbelly Hit the Big Screen

In 1983, filmmaker Martin Bell, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and journalist Cheryl McCall undertook to make a documentary about the lives of homeless and runaway teenagers in Seattle, expanding on the work that Mark and McCall had done for a revealing exposé published in Life magazine earlier that same year. The resulting vérité chronicle of lost youth, Streetwise, went on to great acclaim (including an Oscar nomination), and launched the filmmakers’ long-running collaboration with one of the teenagers they followed, the brash, unforgettable Erin Blackwell, a.k.a. Tiny, about whom Bell and Mark went on to make yet another extraordinary film three decades later. Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell—which Janus Films is presenting in theaters, alongside a new restoration of Streetwise, starting today at New York’s Metrograph—is an intimate, deeply empathetic portrait of its subject as a mother of ten in her midforties, reflecting on her past and present struggles, and giving voice to her hopes for her family’s future.

Below, check out some of the praise that Tiny and Streetwise have garnered ahead of today’s release.

  • Writing in the New York Times, Ben Kenigsberg appreciates the sheer scope of these two films’ achievement. “The combination of Streetwise and Tiny belongs on a short list with Boyhood, the Up documentaries, and Hoop Dreams as exemplars of time-capsule filmmaking,” he finds. “The pair of films not only has much to say about the legacy of poverty (a legacy that includes Erin’s mother, seen toward the end), but also about aging, the capacity for reinvention, and the possibilities of film.”
  • Reviewing Streetwise for the  Hollywood Reporter,John DeFore observes that the documentary “is never mawkish about the kids, who for better and worse have built a community for themselves. Hanging out mostly around the Pike Place Market, now a tourist destination for free-spending foodies, the film gathers enough time-capsule glimpses of street life to give its stories a context. Its title may sound ironic, but it acknowledges the skills these kids have to acquire, quickly, to survive in a world that would rather tut-tut than make sure they have safe places to sleep and enough to eat.”
  • Slant’s Chuck Bowen teases out some of the differences in approach between the “boldly empathetic” Streetwise and the “epic and piercing” Tiny. The latter film “has a fancier structure . . . with a framing device in which Erin watches footage of herself over the years, including unused outtakes from the first film, with Mary Ellen Mark,” he notes. (Mark died in 2015, before the film’s 2016 Seattle premiere.) “An autumnal tone seeps into the new film, which offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of the unending legacies of crime and addiction.”
  • For the Metrograph Edition, Caden Mark Gardner has some especially kind words for the new restoration of Streetwise. The film’s “shoddy availability over the years made it feel like a treasured bootleg by your favorite punk artist,” he writes. “The incredible restoration by Janus Films somehow gives the film even more potency. The richness of textures and colors of Bell’s 16 mm film stock, clearly from another time, now has an added intimacy.”

Check out the trailer for Tiny below, and if you’re in New York, visit Metrograph’s website for showtimes.

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