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Streetwise (1984)

 |  Documentary  |  1984 (USA)
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Gritty documentary looks at the life and lives of teenagers living on the streets of Seattle.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Roberta Joseph Hayes ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Baby Gramps ...
Erin Blackwell ...
Herself (as Tiny)
Lou Ellen Couch ...
Herself (as Lulu)
Kim ...
Lillie ...
Munchkin ...
Patti ...
Dewayne Pomeroy ...
Rat ...
Shadow ...
Shellie ...


Portrays the lives of nine desperate teenagers. Thrown too young into a seedy grown up world, these runaways and castaways survive, but just barely. Rat, the dumpster diver. Tiny, the teen prostitute. Shellie, the baby-faced blonde. DeWayne, the hustler. All old beyond their years. All underage survivors fighting for life and love on the streets of downtown Seattle. Written by Fiona Kelleghan <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


At 13, there's not much Lillie hasn't seen. Except love. See more »




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Release Date:

1984 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Picked by Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of the "50 Greatest Independent Films" in a special supplement devoted to independent films that was only distributed to subscribers in November 1997. See more »


Rat: I love to fly. It's just, you're alone with peace and quiet, nothing around you but clear, blue sky. No one to hassle you. No one to tell you where to go or what to do. The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world.
See more »


Version of American Heart (1992) See more »


The Teddy Bear's Picnic
Music by John W. Bratton
Lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy
Performed by Baby Gramps
See more »

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You'll Be Wiser
27 April 2000 | by (Seattle, WA. USA) – See all my reviews

Someone commented that certain portions of this movie are obviously scripted. Although that's likely the case, I can testify that having personally met director Martin Bell (on the filming of "American Heart") and seeing him interact with young people (at the time, I was friends with someone who had been around on while Streetwise was being filmed), the man has an *incredible* way with these kids. He has a way of gaining their trust, of almost becoming one of them. Thus, I suspect that much less of this film was "scripted" than would appear.

"Streetwise" is not a documentary, although it has a documentary feel. It's a movie, and thus absolute realism is not to be expected. However, his portrayal of the streets of Seattle is amazingly realistic. As I live in the area, I've frequented many of the places portrayed in the film, and just about every scene is recognizable. It was all filmed on location, of course.

Things have changed on the Seattle streets since the early 1980's. Most of the youth (especially the prostitutes) have moved elsewhere, and the areas portrayed in the film are now inhabited mostly by older homeless people (over 18), many of them mentally ill and drug addicts. Crack cocaine abuse is rampant in many of these areas, especially downtown on James St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, just north of Pioneer Square. Times have changed, the "bad areas" have changed. First Avenue has been cleaned up, the Ferry runs have been cut way back due to budget cuts, and the younger kids mostly hang in other areas now (I don't know where). Perhaps on Capitol Hill (Broadway) and in the University District.

I too wonder what happened to many of the kids in this film. We will probably never find out. Martin Bell is a strange director, having filmed only two movies (8 years apart), both in Seattle. If you haven't seen "American Heart," I "heartily" recommend it. It's more of a "movie-movie" and has less of a documentary feel than Streetwise.

Because Streetwise is absolutely tops in its genre (pseudo-documentary), I rate it 10/10. If you can still find it (as far as I know it's out of print), see it -- you'll have no regrets.

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