Songs From The Nickel

a documentary by

Alina Skrzeszewska

Alina Skrzeszewska was born in Wroclaw/Poland. During the politically charged years after the outbreak of the Solidarity movement her family emigrated to West Germany, and Alina grew up in Munich. She studied Stage Design and Art&Media at the University of the Arts in Berlin, and received an MFA in Film&Video from the California Institute of the Arts. Alina's work meanders between essayistic and documentary forms. Her films often talk about fringes, borders, boundaries: be they spaces that carry borders within them, or people whose lives are somehow fractured. Songs from the Nickel (2010) is her first documentary feature.
A journey through an unseen Los Angeles:
Along 5th street, also known as the Nickel.


Stories from an invisible Los Angeles: an intimate portrait of people who found their home in the rhythms of street life and cheap Downtown hotels.

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Sirens, screams, laughter, singing, bartering: these are the sounds sweeping into the rooms of Downtown Los Angeles' old forgotten hotels. Their inhabitants' stories tell of lives lived on the margins. Some residents stay for a few months. Others have lived there for as long as 40 years. According to Charlie, the desk clerk at the King Edward Hotel, “you can be anything you want; you can do anything you want - and nobody gives a damn!” After all, we’re on America’s most notorious skid row, also known to old-timers as the Nickel.

Director Alina Skrzeszewska also lived in one of the hotels for a year and a half, while shooting SONGS FROM THE NICKEL. The result is a strikingly intimate portrait of people living in this largely invisible community. Their lives speak of both desperation and beauty, while subtly resisting the encroaching gentrification. A layered image of America’s diverse urban landscape unfolds, with all its fractures and traumas, as well as its potential.

Director's Statement

This is a movie about outcasts: about the sadness that comes with it, as well as the beauty and the freedom. People on the Nickel have made choices that brought them there. They are not simply victims, but subjects of their own lives. A beauty that stems from resilience of spirit speaks through their distinct faces, their language, their music and their movements.
Together, their stories paint a picture of the city as a place of attempted escape from the pressures of a society that is no longer bearable.


Alina Skrzeszewska
Director / Producer
Berlin / Los Angeles


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