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1700% Project: Mistaken for Muslim by Anida Yoeu Ali

Made seven years ago, this collaboration between Cambodian-American performance artist and poet Anida Yoeu Ali and Japanese-American filmmaker Masahiro Sugano is, sadly, more relevant than ever, with hate crimes against Muslims (and those erroneously assumed to be Muslim) escalating in the U.S. under an administration that has embraced a white Christian supremacist ideology. This was the Film of the Month for January at Poetryfilmkanal. See the 1700% Project website for much more information about the film, including bios of the collaborators and the text of the poem, a cento based on hate crimes committed shortly after 9/11. The video description reads:

In this video, narratives collide with music, poetry and politics to create a complex and layered experience. A poet, dancer, angel, prisoner converge with members of the Muslim community to speak, deflect, and intervene against racial profiling and hate crimes. This convergence exemplifies a spirit of defiance and resistance from communities of people who refuse to end in violence.

This spoken word video is a collaboration between artist Anida Yoeu Ali and filmmaker Masahiro Sugano with over 50 diverse volunteers, participants and community members in the Chicagoland area. It is part of an ongoing project that engages art as a form of intervention against the racial profiling of Muslims in a post 9/11 era. The larger project titled “The 1700% Project” uses a multi-faceted artistic approach to educate the wider public about the diversity within the Muslim community. The number 1700% refers to the exponential percentage increase of hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim since the events of September 11, 2001.

As the article in Poetryfilmkanal notes, the lack of didacticism makes this film more powerful and provocative than most political poetry. Ali says in her artist’s statement:

The project acknowledges that politically driven works are complex and layered thus often requiring a multitude of ways for expression and encounter. … My work continues to investigate the residual stain of performance and how the live body completes the experience for both audience and performer. Performing narratives is an act of social storytelling that contributes to collective healing. For me, performance and storytelling become ways of bridging the interior and exterior space of self as well as initiate critical dialogues between communities and institutions.

Neon Poem by TJ Dema

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Poet TJ Dema, director/cinematographer Masahiro Sugano and Studio Revolt show how performance poetry film is done. The Studio Revolt Facebook page shared the video link on Friday accompanied by the following note:

On September 30 1966, the people of Botswana achieved independence from Britain’s colonial rule. On this 50th year anniversary, Studio Revolt would like to honor this important occasion with the world release of TJ Dema’s “Neon Poem” video. We were fortunate enough to collaborate with this talented and fiery spoken word poet while she was on tour in Cambodia. In the same year of Botswana’s independence, Amiri Baraka wrote a landmark poem as a radical anthem for Black Americans to seek self-love and liberation. “Neon Poem” exists after, and in conversation with Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art.”

Studio Revolt previously released another Sugano film of TJ Dema, “Dreams,” which demonstrated a more minimal but equally effective approach to performance poetry film making.

Dreams by TJ Dema

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This spoken-word film featuring the Botswana poet TJ Dema was directed, filmed, and edited by Masahiro Sugano of Studio Revolt in Phnom Penh. Click through to Vimeo for the complete credits, as well as the text of the poem and a bio of the poet. Sugano left the following note there as a comment:

TJ Dema is a renown poet from Botswana. Her poetry style would be called “spoken word” in the US. But speaking poetry out loud is how poetry has always been done in her homeland. So this is not a “street” or “urban” version of published words. This is poetry as it should be in Botswana. I had the great honor to get acquainted with this talented woman while traveling with Kosal Khiev (Cambodian Son) for London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in the UK. During her show at the Shakespeare museum, she told a few hilarious episodes about how poets are treated and represented in Botswana. I hope to share that video someday soon with you. Once again it is a great honor to present this video to you all. The production was done all in Cambodia (literally “in house” production) when she came to visit in March of 2015. Oh, and we filmed another piece called “Neon Poem” while TJ was here. Stay tuned. Like “Studio Revolt” on the Facebook page. You will be notified of the next release.
— Masahiro Sugano

Here’s the Studio Revolt Facebook page.

Why I Write by Kosal Khiev

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I’m guilty of a lot of oversights and memory failures, but it’s hard to believe I never got around to posting this visually stunning film featuring the exiled Cambodian American spoken-word poet Kosal Khiev. Directed by Masahiro Sugano, it was released in 2011 by Cambodia-based Studio Revolt and was screened at the 2012 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, where it won a prize for Best Poem Performance on Film.

Why I Write was the first of a series of short films that culminated in Sugano’s feature-length documentary about Khiev, Cambodian Son, which debuted in April. Here’s the trailer:

In the Vimeo description for Why I Write, Sugano shared a lengthy essay about how he came to meet and work with Khiev. I particularly liked this bit:

The truth is. I don’t really understand poems. It’s mostly the language issue. English is my second language. I don’t really hear lyrics in songs. Forget rappers. Poetry usually passes over my head as well. So what he was giving, I did not really get. Those rhymes confuse my immigrant ears. But I got what he was telling. It wasn’t the word. This guy knew what it was all about. He was making it real. He captivated me despite my limitation on poetic appreciation. It was very clear to me from the very first line. It wasn’t the poetry. It was him. He was showing and revealing himself, his emotions, through the vehicle of words called poetry. I had this incomprehensible chills in my spine throughout his performance. This is called transcendence. There are few people in the world who can move you beyond category or background. He was one of them. He was transcending his genre of spoken word poetry. His poetry did not call for comprehension. It only engaged and revealed, for which you do not need knowledge. That’s where he was playing. And it was kicking my ass.

He performed another piece for me. I learned soon afterwards spoken word artists use the word “kick” to mean perform. So instead of perform or share a piece of poetry, you “kick” a piece. I’m not a very cool person so I would make you blush if I said something like, “Can you kick a piece?” So I am not using that term, but I think it’s like the official term. Anyhow, the dude “kicked” another piece for me. And we said good-bye.

Read the rest.