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USC film school grad screens her documentary about homeless youth — made when she was one of them

By Christina Campodonico

Documentary short “Venice Neverland” tells the stories of local street kids from an insider’s perspective

When filmmaker Victoria Peralto Cruz was tasked with making a documentary for one of her USC film classes, she made the brave decision to turn the camera in on her own homeless community — a tribe of unsheltered youths who had run away from foster care or broken homes and had adopted each other as family on the streets of Venice Beach.

“It was like a Venice Never Neverland … a giant playground for forgotten street kids,” says Peralto Cruz, who graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2012 and now lives on a boat in Marina del Rey. “We didn’t have parents, just like the Lost Boys in ‘Peter Pan.’ We didn’t have [a mom], and didn’t want one.

“We were the Venice Neverland lost kids.”

That reality inspired the title for Peralto Cruz’s documentary short “Venice Neverland: Street Kids of Venice Beach,” a recently updated version of which makes its film festival debut on Saturday (Oct. 5) during the Other Venice Film Festival happening at Beyond Baroque this weekend.

At the time of the documentary’s filming, Peralto Cruz had “one foot” in the glitzy world of USC’s world-renowned film school — where her classmates practiced Oscar acceptance speeches and dreamed of being the next Spielberg — and the other “in the world of the streets.” She was living in her truck commuting back and forth between USC and Venice, where she had ended up homeless after getting kicked out of a foster home at age 17. For five years she took shelter on the beach, its lifeguard towers and the breakwater before being accepted to film school on a full-tuition scholarship, thanks to the help of mentors, a former foster parent and some good Samaritans.

A proud “Dogtown kid,” Peralto Cruz decided she wanted to use her time there to document the worlds of homeless and foster youth that she knew so well and started interviewing her homeless friends — even compatriots who would sleep in her car from time to time because they had nowhere else to go.

“So I went back to Venice,” she says. “And I started filming them, telling their story.”

The final product is a collection of raw interviews with youths like Coconut, a runaway who describes his birth to a heroin junkie mom “as a failed abortion,” and Wolf, a self-described “black sheep from hell” who left his conservative “hunting/military” family in Illinois for a more bohemian lifestyle.

“It’s coming from the inside out. The story is coming from … their hearts, their fears, their hopes — from inside of them to the world around them,” says Peralto Cruz of the documentary. “When people see the Neverland kids of Venice, I hope that they realize the innate potential that all youth has. And I hope that we can address some of the issues that make youth homeless and have a discussion as a community, as a society, about both the causes and solutions.”

The Other Venice Film Festival happens Friday and Saturday (Oct. 4 and 5) at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. “Venice Neverland: Street Kids
of Venice Beach” screens during Short Film Block No. 3 at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Festival tickets are $15 at othervenicefilmfestival.com.

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