From San Francisco's streets to the big screen

Unexpected connection. The lives of 65-year-old Moses and Fran Guijarro, a 36-year-old film-maker and publicist from Malaga, were brought together in San Francisco.
Unexpected connection. The lives of 65-year-old Moses and Fran Guijarro, a 36-year-old film-maker and publicist from Malaga, were brought together in San Francisco. / F. GUIJARRO
  • Fran Guijarro is finalising his documentary 'Moses', about the life of a homeless man in America

  • The film-maker and publicist, who now lives in the USA, has spent ten years and filmed 600 hours for the documentary, which he hopes to show at the Malaga Festival next year

Day after day for 20 years Moses lived on the same street corner of the financial district of San Francisco. He used to call it his “office”. He didn't ask for money, but he liked to talk to people. Many of the executives who passed him every day were hardly aware he was there; he had become part of the surroundings in what, ironically, is one of the richest cities in the USA. Fran Guijarro did see him, though. He hadn't been in the city long and was still not used to the homeless phenomenon.

“It was a huge cultural shock for me to see so many people living in the street,” says this film maker and publicist from Malaga, who at that time - 2007 - was 25 years old and studying film and publicity at the Academy of Art University. That cultural shock provided him with inspiration, however, and he decided that his project at the end of his masters degree course would be a short documentary about the life of a homeless person.

Fran Guijarro is sure this was not coincidence, because that exchange of glances with a 55-year-old Afro-American crack addict changed, and joined, both of their lives. What began as a short documentary ended up becoming a full-length film which has taken ten years to make, and a man who was one of the 12,000 homeless people hidden beneath the mists of San Francisco turned out to be a talented musician with a traumatic past. During the documentary Moses detoxes, gets off the streets and is reunited with siblings who he thought were dead, while Guijarro left his job as creative director in an advertising agency to pursue his dream of making films. “He has helped me so much. He has given me some of the best advice I have ever received,” he says.

Guijarro slept in the street with Moses, put him up in his home, documented his three attempts at detoxification and his two relapses - “that was the hardest thing of all,” he admits - discovered how other artists found inspiration in him, rescued the music he had recorded in the 1970s and 80s in studios in San Francisco and Nashville and witnessed his reunion with his family.

After 600 hours of recording, dozens of interviews, thousands of kilometres travelled around the USA and even a trip to Spain, the puzzle now has all its pieces and the time has come to put it together. Guijarro is editing the film with the help of Álex Lora, nominated in the Short Documentary section of the recent Goya Awards. “I would love to present 'Moses' at the Malaga film festival next year,” he says.

One of the most emotional moments for Guijarro was when he and Moses travelled together to Spain. Moses had three dreams: he wanted to see Picasso's 'Guernica', swim in the Mediterranean and eat paella, which he did, cooked by Fran Guijarro's mother in Malaga. “He cried like a baby when he saw the picture. I've never seen anybody become so emotional over a work of art,” he recalls now.

Today, Moses is still clean and shares an apartment with others in rehabilitation. He plays the guitar again and now, aged 65, has a new life off the streets. “He has been lucky, but he's brave as well. The problem now is that the problem of homeless people is going to get worse because Trump is cutting back on social policies,” says Guijarro. He says numerous factors come into play with regard to homelessness : the lack of universal health care and accessible housing, the fact that in the 1980s Reagan emptied the psychiatric hospitals, the war veterans, the extreme individualism of American society... “it's a failure of the system,” he says.

Behind this project is Free Range Puppies, the production company that Fran Guijarro founded in 2012 with Catalonian Juli López to give a 'social focus' to advertising and communication as well as promote artistic projects like 'Moses'.

“We both worked in big agencies and left because we felt like dogs on leads. That's where the name of the company comes from,” he explains. They also organised a crowdfunding appeal to finance the documentary in 2012, and received more than 50,000 dollars.