In an effort to increase the Romanian work force, former communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescuoutlawed contraception and abortion in 1966. Thousands of unwanted children were placed in state orphanages where they faced terrible conditions. With the fall of Communism, many children moved onto the streets. Some were from the orphanages. Others were runaways from impoverished families. Today there are 20,000 children living on the streets while the resources for sheltering these homeless youths are severely limited.
Children Underground follows the story of five street children, aged eight to sixteen who live in a subway station in Bucharest,Romania. The street kids are encountered daily by commuting adults, who pass them by in the station as they starve, swindle, and steal, all while searching desperately for a fresh can of paint to get high with.
Belzberg and her cameraman, Wolfgang Held, maintain their distance as the kids panhandle, fight and sleep on cardboard boxes, either on the train platforms or the public parks above ground, watching dispassionately as the youngsters inhale Aurolac, a noxious silver paint with intoxicating fumes, from plastic bags. In a slightly uplifting coda, Belzberg and crew return a year later to find that a police sweep of the Victoriei has dispersed the children; some landed in state-funded homes, while others simply moved on to one of the many abandoned construction sites that dot the city, ironic symbols of a shining future that never arrived. Belzberg steers away from any discussion of the rampant sexual exploitation of these young children, or the fact that one of the biggest dangers they face are STDs, including AIDS, but the urban hell she presents is shattering enough. Homelessness is all too familiar to many inhabitants of the world’s wealthiest cities, but rarely has the situation seemed so hopeless, or its victims so desperate.
One of the children director Belzberg follows is Cristina Ionescu. At first this child may seem to be a young man, but you later find out that girls have to become hard and boyish in order to survive. This is also very apparent with another child named, Violeta ‘Macarena’ Rosu, who is also a girl. The nickname ‘Macarena’ derives from the song “Macarena”, her favorite. Three other children, Mihai Tudose, and brother and sister Ana and Marian, are also profiled.
The film explores the lives of these children, who are shown fighting, abusing themselves, and becoming addicted to inhaling a colorant used in chroming called Aurolac. The filmmakers follow Mihai to his family’s home in the town of Constanța. A similar scene films Ana and Marian as they visit their home, which is also outside Bucharest.
Just sitting in class, we were given a challenge to cut a scene in a film into a 20sec trailer. This is one of the hardest things I think I have ever done, it pushed me to think creatively and use only the shots that tell the story quickly. Good exercise for anyone doing the old art of the edit.