Hamam grips the steering wheel of a rusty old abandoned truck, like many other children his age, he’s pretending to drive, making the universal driving sound Vrrrmmm Vrrrrmmm, and occasionally raising a hand in greeting to the imaginary folk he sees on the way: Salaam, aleykum a-salaam. He’s just like any other 8 year old child, playing and rough-housing with his brothers, but like other 8-year-old children, Hamam will not be going to school. Instead he and his older brother Yichia are sent out to beg for money in order to help support their family.

Hamam counts money/Photo courtesy of filmmakers
Hamam counts money/Photo courtesy of filmmakers

Pennies, a documentary film by Badran Badran, follows the boys over a period of several years, an intimate portrait revealing the human faces and feelings behind the statistics of child beggars. Hamam is initiated by his 14-year-old brother. Yichia had been sent out to beg when his father could no longer find work, but as the boy grew older, people were less likely to give him money. Now it is Hamam’s turn.

The boys’ story is similar to that of other children, as reported in Haaretz by Noa Shpigel. Some are brought into Israel from the West Bank by contractors, some come in alone. Away from home for a month or so at a time, they find hideouts to sleep in at night, and beg at the intersections during the day, always wary of the police. As Yichia instructs Hamam: “When you see the police, run.”

Hamam is full of spirit, to see him on his first day at the intersection, approaching cars subdued, reluctant, and probably very frightened, is heart-wrenching. It is even more appalling to consider the future of these boys who receive no education, whose identities and perspective on the world are formed by the harsh school of the street. They have nowhere to turn for help. A big, well-equipped playground near the intersection entices Hamam, and he wants to stay and play, but Yichia his older brother and supervisor, tells him he needs to go back out there: “You must go, Papa will hit us.”

The boys’ lives at home and on the street are presented as is, without narration or interpretation. In the earliest scenes filmed, Yichia is 8 years old. At the film’s close, he is almost an adult, and has already experienced encounters with the law and jail time. Over and over again, in the film’s early scenes, one sees 8-year-old Hamam approach cars, saying “Help me,” as the people turn away, refusing to look. Pennies is a film that sheds light on the darker corners of society, offering a look at the daily lives of those who all too often remain invisible.

Pennies will hold its premiere screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on September 12, 2016.

Pennies (Israel, 2015, 70 min, Hebrew and Arabic with Hebrew subtitles)

Directed by Badran Badran; Producers: Yoad Earon, Badran Badran; Editor: Anat Tzom Ayalon; Cinematography: Taher Maslemani; Music: Raed Amara