Directed by: Celine Held, Logan George
Distributed by: Vertical Entertainment
Written by Jeff Sparks
“Topside,” tells a heartbreakingly realistic story of a homeless mother and daughter who wander the cold streets of New York City after they are forced out of their makeshift home in the subway system. Starring a desperate performance from Celine Held who also writes and directs, the film also contains a strong child performance from newcomer Zhaila Farmer whose character acts as a reminder of all the unfortunate children who are forced to grow up without a home and are never given the chance to live a fulfilling life. Opening with the young Little (Farmer) playing on the ground in a dark and dingy subway system that has been abandoned for some time, we quickly realize this is not the worst of the child’s issues when we see that a nearby shantytown in this underground tunnel is not only where the child lives, but is also the only place she has ever known.
Her sex worker mother Nikki (Held) tries her best to make the most of things for the girl but knows deep down it isn’t enough as the girl can’t even do simple math like five minus one. The rumbles and creaks she hears from the trains and cars are the only experience Little has had with the world above until she and her mother are forced out by city officials. The bright lights from the streets hurt her eyes as she is disoriented by this big and bustling city that she never knew existed. The wobbly and unfocused camera simulates the overwhelming amount of things to see that she has never seen before. Dozens of people, cars, buses, restaurants, street signs all surprise and startle her. As her mother whisks her around the city Little discovers more and more in this place she has never seen before. Forks, staircases, birds, and even stars in the sky are new to her.
Many more realistic occurrences in the film portray the true nature of poverty and homelessness that will deeply affect some viewers. I found the film hard to watch more and more throughout as I was reminded that in real life there are millions of people like Little and Nikki whose lives are forgotten about by a world that does not care to help the less fortunate. It’s important to mention that filmmaker Celine Held’s purpose for the film is to bring child homelessness to light after seeing families stricken with these issues while working at a Kindergarten in New York City. This type of authenticity is shown in the film and is what elevates it above most other films that would try to tackle these same subjects. Held’s personal experiences and dedications to these types of issues will separate her from the pack and will drive her career forward if she continues to use the authenticity from her personal experiences the way she did in “Topside”.
“Topside” is available in select theaters and on VOD.