The 1984 documentary Streetwise is like “Kids” meets “Trainspotting”.


Trailer for “Streetwise”

Watch “Streetwise”

You can stream Streetwise for free on YouTube at

…or stream it on Criterion Channel if you’re a subscriber ($10.99 per month last time I checked) here:

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  • My Rating: 95/100
  • IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 93/100 (Users); 98/100 (Critics)

Review of “Streetwise”

Buckle up, because you’re about to dive into a gritty, no-holds-barred journey through the mean streets of 1980s Seattle.

It’s not going to be a comfortable ride, but that’s precisely the point.

Martin Bell’s 91 minute documentary is like a punch to the gut—raw, unflinching, and impossible to ignore.

It’s a movie that grabs you by the collar and drags you into the harsh reality of life on the streets.

It’s where kids like Rat, a scrappy teenage survivor, are jumping off bridges and living in abandoned hotels with no parental guidance in sight.

But here’s the thing: “Streetwise” isn’t just about shock value. It’s a deeply humanizing portrait of the struggles and dreams of these street kids, captured through the haunting lens of Mary Ellen Mark’s photography and Bell’s immersive direction.

It’s a style that the French call cinéma vérité, or “fly on the wall,” and boy, does it pack a wallop.

Take Tiny, for instance. At just 14 years old, she’s already a seasoned veteran of the streets, claiming to have had over 200 “dates.”

But beneath that tough exterior is a scared child, yearning for love and belonging in a world that seems determined to crush her spirit. Bell’s camera captures her in all her complexity, and it’s impossible not to be moved by her story.

And then there’s Dewayne Pomeroy, a 15-year-old drug addict and thief whose heart-wrenching conversation with his father in King County Jail will leave you reeling.

When Dewayne tragically dies by suicide just days before his 16th birthday, his sparsely attended funeral drives home the profound isolation and detachment these kids experience.

Lulu, an 18-year-old lesbian, looks out for the other kids on the streets, emerging as a heroic figure—only to be stabbed to death soon after the film’s release. Her story underscores the precariousness and danger that constantly loom over these young lives.

Shadow, a streetwise hustler, acts as a mentor figure to some of the younger kids. His presence adds a layer of complexity to the street community dynamics, showing how these kids often rely on each other for survival and guidance.

Patrice, another young girl navigating life on the streets, highlights the unique challenges faced by young women in such environments.

Her story, like Shellie’s, another teenage girl struggling with addiction and prostitution, provides a deeper understanding of the cycle of abuse and survival tactics.

But “Streetwise” isn’t all doom and gloom. There are moments of unexpected beauty and humanity, like when Rat talks about hopping a train to Portland, dreaming of escape.

These stories are messy, complicated, and often tragically short. There’s no Hollywood ending here, no neat resolution.

But that’s what makes “Streetwise” so powerful. It forces us to confront the uncomfortable truth that for many of these kids, there is no easy way out.

The film’s soundtrack, featuring the melancholic melodies of Tom Waits, perfectly captures the sorrow and longing that permeate these kids’ lives.

And Mark’s stark black-and-white images, combined with Bell’s unflinching direction, create a haunting atmosphere that lingers long after the credits roll.

But perhaps the most gutting aspect of “Streetwise” is the postscript, where we learn that Tiny went on to have ten children, struggled with addiction, and eventually participated in a follow-up documentary in 2016.

It’s a reminder that the impact of these early experiences can echo throughout a lifetime.

In the end, “Streetwise” is more than just a documentary. It’s a raw, unflinching look at a world that most of us never see—a world that exists on the fringes of society but is all too real for those who inhabit it. It’s a film that challenges us, unsettles us, and demands to be seen.

So buckle up, folks. This isn’t going to be a comfortable ride.

But it’s a journey that everyone needs to take. Because in the midst of all the darkness, “Streetwise” finds moments of grace and humanity that will stay with you long after the final frame.

And that, my friends, is what great documentary filmmaking is all about.

“Streetwise Revisited: and Other Follow-ups

A lot has happened since the epic “Streetwise” doc.

There was huge demand from the Streetwise’s fans. They wanted to know what happened to Tiny, Rat and the others.

Here are some of those video clips:

“Streetwise in Seattle” (Tiny in 1993)

Tiny at 20 (1993)

The video above works — just click on Watch on YouTube

Streetwise Revisited: Tiny

The video above works — just click on Watch on YouTube

Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell

You can watch that on Criterion Channel ($10.99 per month last I checked) at

Streetwise Revisited: Rat

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc