Written by Madison Drew Daniels
Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com
October 9, 2017
I Am Another You is the second film by visionary filmmaker Nanfu Wang. Her first film, Hooligan Sparrow, won numerous awards. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that her Sophomore piece won first prize at SXSW. The eyes of documentary filmmakers should be trained on Nanfu Wang because, so far, she’s batting a thousand.
Wang cleverly tells the story of I Am Another You in the first person. The experience the viewer gets is the experience Wang has.
Her story begins in a hostel in Florida when she meets a boy named Dylan. The hostel keeper calls him a street kid. And it’s Wang’s curiosity with this very American concept of willful homelessness that causes her to undertake her own adventure by joining Dylan.
The film is broken into three chapters, the first of which is spent trying to understand Dylan and why he chooses this lifestyle. And as soon as we see Dylan we understand why Wang wants to figure him out. With loose blond curls, blue eyes, tan skin, wide smile, and a surfer boy laid back attitude, Dylan exudes a philosopher poet’s magnetism.
He is articulate, warm, and friendly with everyone he meets. Hard times didn’t force the vagabond lifestyle on him– he chose it of his own free will. In her own words “he seemed like a symbol for free America.”
This film affected me within the first few minutes. The longer I watched the more the film resonated with me on a profound level. I was very surprised to learn that blond hair, blue eyes, and a wanderer heart are not the only thing Dylan and I share. Less than a hundred miles separated the homes we grew up in here in Utah.
I know the town he grew up in and I know the religion and world he left behind. I know that world because that world is mine. Suddenly, I Am Another You stopped being a clever title and became the essence of what Dylan is to me and I to him. He really is another me. And I am another him.
But, there were cracks in the poetry of Dylan’s life. Not all was at it seemed. Wang begins to question whether the freedom Dylan represents is genuine. Is his homelessness truly freely chosen? Chapter one closes with Wang ending her time with Dylan due to a disagreement they had over the kindness of strangers.
Chapter two changes gears completely. We are introduced to Officer John Olsen. Officer Olsen is a Detective in the sex crimes unit for a Utah police department and keeps a video diary as a way to cope with the emotional trauma of his job. We come to learn that Officer Olsen is Dylan’s father.
We learn about his struggles trying to raise a rebellious son. The pain of this man’s life is palpable as he describes his son’s past drug addictions. He recounts the heartbreaking last moments of buying Dylan a bus ticket to San Diego– knowing that Dylan was choosing homelessness as his last resort.
The mystery of Dylan begins to unravel as Wang is reunited with Dylan after two years since her time with him. He returns home for his father’s wedding. Being able to see Dylan in the world he left sheds more light on the kind of person he is.
It becomes evident, to Wang, that Dylan is more than a reaction against a conservative religious worldview. I won’t spoil the arc of the final chapter of Wang and Dylan’s story, but it both is and isn’t shocking. You’ll see.
The beauty of I Am Another You is the clever simplicity of its narrative.
Wang’s choice to remain in first person and make the viewer’s journey of discovery her own was a genius choice. Wang approaches Dylan from a non-western perspective. This gives her the freedom to present Dylan’s story almost without bias. I didn’t not come to know Dylan as a homeless kid with a few screws loose. I came to know him on his own terms.
Had I met Dylan on the street, I may not have been so wise. And because I came to understand his homelessness on his terms, I feel like I now better understand what might drive a person to choose this life. And that understanding hopefully will come with an added measure of compassion.
Wang deserves all the awards she gets for I Am Another You. She is a tremendous storyteller and proves she has an eye for cinema and poetry. In this sobering tale of a dreamy eyed kid with a broken soul, Wang deconstructs the fable of the American vagabond.
What began as the romanticizing of the millennial drifter ends as a commentary on what does or doesn’t makes us for society.
For anyone who’s ever dreamed about leaving it all behind, this is a must see documentary.