Filmmaker: Mohammed Hammad

American Arithmetic by Natalie Diaz

Poet: | Nationality: , | Filmmaker:

At the National Museum of the American Indian,
68 percent of the collection is from the U.S.
I am doing my best to not become a museum
of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out.
I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.

Mohammed Hammad‘s polyvocalic film of a poem by Natalie Diaz — the first of two of her poems included in Motionpoems‘ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President” — is everything a socially engaged poetry film should be, giving the viewer a powerful sense of the political and cultural contexts from which the poem emerged. There’s a very good interview with Hammad in Director’s Notes; here’s a snippet:

How did your conceptualization of Natalie Diaz’s poem evolve from an initially abstract narrative to its current form and how do you feel the use of portraiture and mixed format cinematography strengthened your interpretation of the poem?

I initially had a visual treatment that was more abstract and super ambitious production-wise relative to the budget we were working with. Part of the initial concept was to film portraits of residents of the reservations. After much consideration and a push from my producers, we decided it would be best to have the film feature portraits of indigenous people living in a city to better relate to Natalie Diaz’s depiction. We felt it would create moments of intimacy that would contextualize the statistics mentioned in the poem.

I felt that the camcorder footage would add that extra layer of intimacy between the film and the viewer, to show a more intimate perspective of the illuminating conversations happening behind the scenes.

From its opening moments, American Arithmetic’s soundtrack is peppered with a multitude of vocal fragments discussing the hostile environment encountered by the Native American community. Could you tell us more about the process of building the film’s soundtrack?

The more I embraced the portraiture treatment of the film, the more the pieces of the puzzle came together more, especially with regards to the audio part of the film. It just made sense to add snippets of our subjects’ interviews and to weave together a collection of reflections, each contributing to the conversation on what it’s like to be a Native person in America today.

Read the rest. And do read Diaz’s poem in its original form on the Motionpoems page.