Updated July 29, 2018

Tent City, USA is available for streaming at Amazon!

The film’s director, Steven Cantor, was interviewed at IndieWire back in 2012 when the documentary premiered on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.

The level of intimacy and access in the Tent City community seen in the film is quite remarkable, not to mention this particular community has great characters and drama– what drew you to this subject matter and what was your point of entry into this particular community?

Steven Cantor: Gabriel Byrne and [executive producer] Leora Rosenberg first pitched me the idea of a film on homelessness. Leora is involved with a New York based homeless facility called The Doe Fund and thought there might be a story there. And Gabriel is one of those genuinely sympathetic souls who felt the homeless experience must be unbearable and sought a way to capture the essence of that. Our producing partner, Margaret McCombs and I honed the idea in on Nashville’s tent city. We were drawn by the notion of a group of people who have lost every semblance of community in their lives, only to band together to create a new community.

I was particularly struck by how being homeless amplifies everything in life. For example, when the river flooded in Nashville, it was hard on the whole city and made national headlines. But what did not get attention was that the tent city homeless population lost EVERYTHING they had. It was not much to begin with, but whatever it was was gone and they had to start from scratch.

Updated April 17

Thanks to Floor for the heads up on this interview  [no longer available online] with Gabriel Byrne at Stick Figure Productions, the producers of the film. Here is an excerpt:

Sounds like a tough sell. How did you get it off the ground?

It’s funny, we initially pitched the concept to Steven and he was only moderately receptive. I recall vividly our early meetings where I would rant on with my Irish enthusiasm about how poetic the film could be and how important it was to tell the story of homelessness. I was prepared to go out myself and do some “man-in-the-street” interviews in New York to get things started on what I thought would be a topical film. But Steven kept hammering us on finding the specifics and the individuals whose stories we would tell. He was like a stone wall – I don’t think it’s possible to convince that man on an issue for a documentary. But once we zeroed in on the few people in Nashville, it crystallized for him and for all of us and from there the film was born.

To what extent were you involved in the production?

I was most active in the whole development process. Once we brought Steven and his producer, Margaret McCombs, on board to make the film, there was a lengthy process to figure out the specifics of the story we wanted to tell. Homelessness is such a vital, visceral experience for one to go through, so we had numerous possibilities. I had never been involved in developing a documentary to that extent, so it was a good learning experience for me as well.

I also watched the footage and rough cuts and gave some feedback which I like to think was helpful.

And I contributed a riveting opening voice-over! (laughs)

From Oprah Winfrey’s network, OWN:

“Due primarily to the economic recession, a growing number of people are finding themselves in a position they never imagined: homeless. Tent City U.S.A. explores a community in Nashville, Tennessee of nearly 100 homeless people who live under a downtown bridge. They work to stay together after a devastating flood destroys their land and forces them to evacuate.”

Directed by Steven Cantor; Gabriel Byrne, Leora Rosenberg, Terry Clark and Daniel Laikind, executive producers; Mr. Cantor and Margaret McCombs, producers; Pax Wassermann, editor.

Tent City U.S.A. premieres Thursday, April 5th at 9/8c only on OWN.

The New York Times has a review and here is an excerpt:

Part of OWN’s slate of original documentaries backed by famous Hollywood names, “Tent City U.S.A.” (Gabriel Byrne is an executive producer) examines an encampment of homeless people in Nashville, a city, we’re told, where the rate of homelessness is well above the national average. A few months into filming, something happened that was a disaster for the camp’s residents and a macabre stroke of luck for the documentary’s director, Steven Cantor (“Devil’s Playground”): the record-breaking Tennessee floods of 2010 put Tent City under 10 feet of water, uprooting the film’s subjects and sending them down different paths, variously hopeful, heroic, troubling and bleak.

And in a Phoenix Movie Examiner interview with the director, Steven Cantor, that is unfortunately no longer available on the Internet, we learn something about Gabriel Byrne that we actually already knew:

In “Tent City, U.S.A.,” which will air 9 p.m. Thursday, April 5 on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, Cantor takes a look at homelessness in Nashville, Tenn. The project was first pitched to him by executive producers Leora Rosenberg and Gabriel Byrne. Cantor explained that Rosenburg is involved with a New York-based homeless facility while Byrne is a genuinely sympathetic soul.

If you have the opportunity to watch this, please leave a comment and tell us what you think!


  1. Kim Serrahn /Connell (@kimserrahn)

    I can well understand where they are coming from. For two weeks my son and I slept on a pew in a church in Biloxi, MS. Then when we got back to Reno I was able to put a roof over our heads in a weekly motel. Ask the government and they will tell you those living in motels like that are homeless. I have on the edge so long I can feel for them. Anything can happen it’s how we deal with it that will either break us or make us stronger. I am stronger for it. I will not fear any more.

  2. Oh Connell. I’ve been there too. Good for you for staying strong in the face of such adversity. We are here for you. Always.

  3. It not accessible to me (Belgium) I’m afraid.

  4. Kariboo52

    I am still amazed at the true human spirit that the people had at “Tent City”. How they all try to help each other, share what ever you can. Police themselves. I had only heard about “Tent City”, so shame on me for not trying to help!

  5. Thanks for the information about Tent City.
    It is a good things that somebody tells the world about under how difficult circumstances some persons have to live.
    It is not possible to view the video above in Norway. Can somebody help to make the video available in Europe?

  6. Here’s a link for an interview with Gabriel Byrne, about how he set up for this documentary. In the article, the first paragraph is a link “tent city, USA” which links you to the preview of Tent City. I wasn’t able to watch this one on the site, but I was able to watch the one in the link. So you should try and check that one out. Hope it works for you!

    • bummer! Link doesn’t seem to work anymore… :$

    • Thanks, Floor, for this link to the interview and the video. I have included the information in the main posting now. I hope everyone gets a chance to watch the trailer and perhaps the film as well at some point. This is another great example of Mr. Byrne’s commitment to causes and issues that matter to him and to us.

  7. Thank you for the link. It worked for me too.

  8. Thank you very much Floor!
    The link worked perfect for me here in Norway.
    Tent City trailer makes a deep impression on me.

  9. I am homeless and in Nashville. I was on the show and can’t find a link to see it online.

    • Hi, Angie. Thanks for stopping by. The only part of the film that is available online right now is the trailer. The link to that is in the posting above. If you would like to share more about your experience making the film, I’m sure everyone would love to hear about it!


    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post!
    It’s the little changes that produce the greatest changes. Thanks for sharing!

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