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Songs from the Nickel

Songs from the Nickel

Songs from the Nickel

Alina Skrzeszewska in person from Germany! 

Los Angeles premiere!

Sirens, screams, laughter, singing, bartering: these are the sounds sweeping into the rooms of Downtown Los Angeles' old forgotten hotels. Their inhabitants' stories tell of lives lived on the margins. Some residents stay for a few months. Others have lived there for as long as 40 years. According to Charlie, the desk clerk at the King Edward Hotel,  “you can be anything you want; you can do anything you want - and nobody gives a damn!” After all, we’re on America’s most notorious skid row, also known to old-timers as the Nickel.

Director Alina Skrzeszewska lived in one of the hotels for a year and a half, while shooting SONGS FROM THE NICKEL. The result is a strikingly intimate portrait of people living in this largely invisible community. Their lives speak of both desperation and beauty, while subtly resisting the encroaching gentrification. A layered image of America’s diverse urban landscape unfolds, with all its fractures and traumas, as well as its potential, but already suffused with nostalgia for a Downtown that has changed dramatically in five years.

Alina Skrzeszewska is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles and Berlin. She was born in Wroclaw, Poland. During the politically charged years after the outbreak of the Solidarity movement her family emigrated to West Germany, and Alina grew up in Munich. She graduated in Theatre Stage Design and Experimental Media from the University of the Arts, Berlin, and received an MFA in Film & Video from the California Institute of the Arts. Songs from the Nickel (2010) was her first documentary feature. It was shown at over 25 film festivals around the world (Visions du Réel, DocLisboa, Gijon) and has won multiple awards. While shooting Songs from the Nickel, Alina lived in a skid row hotel for a year and a half in 2007/08. Alina is the recipient of multiple scholarships and grants. She is an alumna of the Berlinale Talent Campus as well as an IDFA Academy alumna, and has served on the jury of the International Film Festival in Duhok, Iraq. In 2012, she completed a documentary entitled Traviesos for German TV channel ZDF/3sat. After Songs from the Nickel and Traviesos, she is now working on her third longer film focusing on the complex skid row neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles, under the working title Game Girls. The project has received development funding from MEDIA.

Tickets: $10 general admission; $6 students (with ID)/seniors; free for Filmforum members.

Tickets available in advance at


This program is supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission; the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. Additional support generously provided by American Cinematheque. We also depend on our members, ticket buyers, and individual donors

SONGS Craig smaller

Songs from the Nickel

Songs from the Nickel

(USA/Germany, 2010, digital, 83 min.) Los Angeles premiere!

Directed & Produced by Alina Skrzeszewska

Co-Producers William Shepherd & Oliver Eclarinal

This is a movie about outcasts: about the sadness that comes with it, as well as the beauty and the freedom. People on the Nickel have made choices that brought them there. They are not simply victims, but subjects of their own lives. A beauty that stems from resilience of spirit speaks through their distinct faces, their language, their music and their movements. Together, their stories paint a picture of the city as a place of attempted escape from the pressures of a society that is no longer bearable.