"This was the first time I ate food from a garbage can," says the documentarian Nanfu Wang some 10 minutes into I Am Another You, an excellent, intuitive study of American wanderlust. We see her doing just what she's described, as she's handed off her camera to the 22-year-old street kid who has become her subject. Born in China and now based in New York, Wang took a bus to Florida in 2011; she filmed the people she met, especially the electric charmer Dylan, a sunny-blond Utah boy living off handouts and odd jobs and sleeping in parks, beaches and the occasional hostel. He talks of freedom, about not having fit in back home. Wang, fascinated, spends a week as his tagalong, scavenging food and ducking the cops, capturing his poetry/philosophy, his street encounters and a series of arresting Florida reveries.
But then his drinking and prickliness rub Wang wrong, and she heads back to New York. It's here that Wang's film vaults from loose character study to something more fascinating: Two years later, Wang visits Utah, where she tracks down and interviews Dylan's family. Here is a father recounting, with a tremble, his son's entirely elective first day of homelessness.
Chief among Wang's great strengths as a documentarian are her curiosity and her ability to win the trust of her subjects. I Am Another You becomes more fascinating as Dylan's family lets her camera into their lives. Wang puzzles over mental health and nonconformity, of the idea of being free to choose a life of homelessness versus the possibility of that life being the best that America offers some people.