Kids: Shocking Film of 1995–Where Are the Players Today? Tales of Suicide and Death of Drug Overdose

‘Kids’ Shocked American Culture in 1995.  ‘The Kids,’ a New Docu Examines Fate of its Characters

The Kids

Kids, a raw, candid look at a group of skateboarding, drug-abusing, bed-hopping teenagers, was a shocking movie that became commercial hit, when it premiered in the summer of 1995.

Shot on a shoestring budget with a cast of unknowns and amateur actors, the film’s subject matter and frank sexuality was scandalous, prompting condemnation in some quarters, as well as fights with the ratings board.

The NC-17 rating forced Bob and Harvey Weinstein, then at Miramax, to buy back the movie from parent company Disney. In order to release the movie in unrated form, they created a one-off distribution shingle

Side Effects

Kids went on to gross an astounding $20.4 million, catapulted director Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine to Hollywood major league, and launched the careers of Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny, who had played the two major female roles..

Many of the young men and women that played key roles struggled to find work after the film premiered, and grew frustrated for not getting paid, while the director and the Weinstein brothers scored major paydays.

The Kids, a new documentary premiering at Tribeca Festival this week, grapples with the lives of the characters after that movie.

“My feelings about the movie started to shift after I saw it in the theater and saw the global reaction,” says Hamilton Harris, one of the non-professional actors in Kids. “It was extremely overwhelming and it brought the realization that I needed to do some work on myself.”

Harris felt that the film had played up the shock value, dwelling on hardships faced by the skateboarders who came from unstable homes. He thought that Clark and Korine failed to capture the strong sense of community these teenagers had created and the more positive elements of their intense friendships.

“We were tight-knit group who skateboarded and hung out,” says Harris. “We were in the right place at the right time and we become part of this cult classic film and had to deal with everything that comes with that. You can take a person out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of a person, and to me ghetto refers to the mental and emotional trauma we went through.”

Harris has been trying to produce The Kids for more than a decade. Initially, he envisioned it as a narrative and even started writing. But later on, he decided that it would be better as a documentary.

He also realized the need for a professional director. Through a mutual friend, he was put in touch with Eddie Martin, a documentarian whose works include Have You Seen the Listers, about Australian street artist Anthony Lister, and All This Mayhem, about professional skateboarding.

“I had conversations with other directors and it didn’t feel right,” says Harris. “But when I met Eddie, I knew he would allow me to be at my most vulnerable and I can’t do that if I feel like I’m going to be taken advantage of, or put down or used.”

Justin Pierce Suicide

Harris felt responsibility to do justice to the story because two of his peers in Kids, Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter, had died young. Pierce was able to leverage his work in “Kids” into appearances in “Next Friday” and a guest stint on “Malcolm in the Middle,” but he committed suicide in 2000, hanging himself in a Las Vegas hotel room at the age of 25.

Harold Hunter Death from Drug Overdose

Hunter turned to drugs and alcohol after failing to find acting work. In 2006, he was found dead from cocaine overdose in his Lower East Side apartment. He was 31.

Martin thinks the story of “Kids” should be a cautionary tale. A few people made a fortune, while the rest were not. People like Pierce and Hunter didn’t have the support systems to help them navigate the Hollywood scene.

“It’s complex, especially when you’re approaching teenagers who don’t have many chances around them,” says Martin. “Many of them were runaways or from traumatic backgrounds or troubled homes. They trusted the filmmakers and gave a lot. And then they didn’t have anyone around to help them or give them guidance, while there was narrow window of opportunity that opened for them.”

In Kids, underage actors were shot naked and drugs were available. When the movie became box office hit, the cast was locked out of any profit participation. They also resented being stereotyped as amoral street kids.

Price of Telling Truth

“Larry always says, ‘I tell the truth and the truth can be shocking,’” says Martin. “My response is: whose truth? and what are the costs of telling that truth to other people? It was marketed in a particular way that had impact on those sold as particular characters. Twenty-six years have passed, so you can see the consequences.”

Neither Clark nor Korine agreed to participate in the making of The Kids. But there have been legal challenges to using footage from the 1995 film.

“Someone has been trying to shut the film down from a legal angle,” says Martin. “They’re trying to stop it and we’re getting into fair use and the owning of material. They can’t stop individuals from telling their side of the story, so they’re trying to do that by blocking the use of footage.”

For Harris, now in his 40s with kids of his own, making the documentary was therapeutic.