"Nothing ever feels like home," says Inocente Izucar, the main character in the short documentary entitled "Inocente", an Academy Award-nominated film created by husband and wife team Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine.
Back in 2009, when the film was made, Izucar was a fifteen-year-old facing the ordinary challenges of finding her own personal identity; at the same time, she was facing the extraordinary challenges of homelessness and parental abuse. Nevertheless, hers is a story of hope come to life, through Izucar’s art and her own unique buoyancy.
At the time, the Fines had become greatly affected by the high frequency of homelessness amongst children, especially after learning about an alarming statistic. According to The National Center on Family Homelessness (which has since merged with the American Institutes for Research), 1 out of 45 children in America lives in a transient state, whether in motels, cars, shelters or out on the street. This awareness became a powerful impetus for the Fine’s work on the documentary.
Per chance-or perhaps by the powers that be--the couple was introduced to Izucar by artist Matt D’Arrigo, founder of ARTS (A Reason To Survive), a non-profit organization that focuses on using art as a form of therapy and healing, for children and young adults struggling with major life challenges.
Several years earlier, after facing his own series of trials and tribulations, D’Arrigo had discovered how art’s transformative power enabled him to endure. In 2001, he founded ARTS, making it possible for him to share his philosophy that through art, people can not only survive, but actually change their lives for the better, as well.
Among the many youngsters who participated in ARTS’ programs, over the ensuing years, was Izucar. At age twelve, she made her way into the ARTS San Diego location.
Without a doubt, D’Arrigo knew Izucar had talent; he also knew that her story needed to be told. The Fines agreed.
And so began the chronicling of Izucar’s life, told through the lens of a camera, vérité style...
Upon arising each morning, Izucar first uses her face as her canvas, painting it with vivid designs and colors, before she heads off into a world filled with an abundance of insecurities.
She speaks of the past and of her father’s violence toward his family, now blaming herself for her family being homeless. After all, it was after a physical altercation with her, that her father was deported back to Mexico.
The strain in the relationship she has with her mother is more than obvious. Perhaps there would be no story to tell if her mother had succeeded with her plan to jump off a bridge, with Izucar at her side.
Izucar’s schoolmates might provide some solace if they knew she was homeless. But sharing her plight is too risky and so Izucar pretends she is what she isn’t…at least for a little while.
However, this teen with countless dreams has finally found a safe haven. At ARTS, she is able to express herself and create artwork as never before.
Each year, ARTS serves approximately 5,000 young people. When the organization's annual art show comes around, only the very best young artists are given the opportunity to exhibit their work. In November 2009, it was Izucar’s turn; the thirty pieces of her artwork that were on display were all sold.
Izucar’s life has changed in many ways since she began studying and working with ARTS. The documentary about her has tremendously increased her visibility and her popularity. Earlier this month, when “Inocente” was screened in Washington D.C. at the House Visitor's Center, there she was smack in the middle of all those powerful politicians. She’s been busy, too, readying herself for Oscar night.
These days, many, many people want to purchase her artwork, so she is on a sort of hiatus from selling, until a newly designed website is up and running, one where patrons can directly make purchases of her paintings.
And she’s renting a small apartment, a place she can finally call home.
One of her goals is to “help other homeless kids”. She has already served as an inspiration for some, touching their lives and sharing her hope with them.
Inocente Izucar’s story is proof positive that art can change a person’s life.
But also, she has become a part of a much bigger picture, one in which the tradition of people helping people is beautiful beyond words.