This unflinching look at teens living on the streets of Seattle was one of the first documentaries to deal with the ever-growing plight of homelessness among young people.
It began as a Life magazine article by photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark and writer Cheryl McCall; Mark and her husband, director Martin Bell, went back to Seattle to film the daily lives of the throwaways and runaways.
The film is shot cinéma vérité style, with no narration to guide the viewer. Bell and Mark found a large group of subjects willing to talk about their lives of panhandling, prostitution, petty crime, and drugs. They're proud of their abilities to survive, but there's a strong undercurrent of wistfulness about their observations.
There are glimpses into the family lives that drove these kids to the streets: an alcoholic mother, another woman who's mystified that her daughter won't come home now that the girl's stepfather has promised not to force sex on her, and a convict bullying his son during a jailhouse visit. The latter relationship clearly inspired Mark and Bell's next project, the feature American Heart, which also took place in Seattle. Mark published a book of her photographs under the title Streetwise in 1988.