Mark Reay doesn’t fit even the most enlightened person’s stereotype of a homeless man. At a party for the Sarasota Film Festival wearing a fashionable suit and rubbing elbows with folks with paid $100 a head to get in, it seems unlikely to find out this former male model lives on the rooftop of a New York City building. But here he is. “I know my story is fascinating and odd,” he says.
Reay is the subject of the much-talked-about documentary Homme Less, a film shot by Thomas Wirthensohn, and which has its second screening at the Sarasota Film Festival on Monday.
Reay and Wirthensohn have known each other for 30 years, since both were living in Austria. When Wirthensohn moved to New York to pursue his filmmaking career, he was catching up with Reay when he learned of his friend’s unusual life circumstance. Facing difficult financial constraints, Reay just decided one day the best way to continue his life was by sleeping atop a building in the East Village.
“When I told Tom, I spent the next 15 minutes convincing him it was true,” Reay says.
Wirthensohn confirms that story, and hopes telling Reay’s tale on film will wake more people up to how easily even the well-to-do can find themselves without a home. “There are 60,000 homeless people in New York right now,” Wirthensohn says. “The film captures a person’s struggles to live in the way they want to live.”
The film has won festival awards in New York and Austria, but Reay says his own living situation remains unchanged. Still, he seems pleased to have found a way to continue living an active social life in New York without the oppressive cost of rent. “It’s not a recipe for success but for survival, and in a strange way contentment.”
Pictured: Mark Reay and Thomas Wirthensohn