The Lost Boys of Portlandia

Take us to Neverland: homeless teens film their own version of Peter Pan and discuss the boy who never grew up.

Directed by Nili Yosha ’07

Reviewed by Megan Labrise ’04

The stars of Nili Yosha’s 24-minute documentary, The Lost Boys of Portlandia, are introduced as bright spots in a darkened room: faces illuminated by a movie screen’s glow. Joey, Kitty, Jake, Kayla, Alexuis, Malakai, Titus, and Sam are homeless teens served by Outside In, a Portland nonprofit providing social and health services to young people living on the streets. 

Narrated by Yosha, founder and executive director of Outside the Frame, an independent nonprofit that teaches storytelling and filmmaking skills to homeless youths, The Lost Boys of Portlandia follows the Outside In group as they decide to make their own Peter Pan film. 

To that end, Yosha enlists the aid of mentor and fellow Reedie Vanessa Veselka ’10, a novelist and teacher, who shares her own story of leaving home at age 15. 

“I didn’t know a single person my age when I was on the streets,” Veselka says. “I was like a 15-year-old who was dating 30-year-old dudes and living under bridges. It was not a great time in my life. It was not necessarily a free time in my life. But it was better than where I came from, is how I felt, and so those were the choices I made.”

Veselka helps the the teens craft a narrative and write a script. What ensues is an antic montage—prop shopping, theater exercises, camera-operating class, hair and makeup—including snippets from their cinematic version of J.M. Barrie’s timeless story.

The Lost Boys of Portlandia ends before the teens’ film wraps but not before they share their stories, dreams, and gratitude for the opportunity, through art, to be seen and understood.

“We create this fantasy for ourselves and these personas—street names, cliques, certain activities that tend to define us,” Kitty says, “and sometimes it just takes someone seeing us as a human being again for us to be able to make those steps [to] change that.”