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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.

Why I Write by Kosal Khiev

Poet: | Nationality: , | Filmmaker:

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.