If you liked This is America, the Childish Gambino rap video by Hiro Murai, you’ll be riveted by this latest film from Motionpoems. Serbian-American director Jovan Todorovic‘s interpretation of a Danez Smith poem is surely one of the most searing and impactful poetry films in Motionpoems’ history. See Todorovich’s website for the full credits.
The film debuted online not at Motionpoems but at Nowness, which included this quote from the director:
America and the American dream is an emotion, and it used to be an attainable dream. This sentiment is quickly dissolving. My wish is to address this despair purely on an emotional level. This is a poetic short film that explores what has happened to the idea of the American Dream… a visceral meditation on the idea of death and decay… and finally, rebirth.
They go on to interview Todorovich “about social sickness, alienation, and poetry’s relationship to film.” It’s worth reading in full; I’ll just quote the last bit:
NOWNESS: A poem is such a mercurial, elusive thing. What was it like turning a poem into a film?
Jovan: It was an exciting and specific process for me precisely because the inspiration was a poem. Because this poem creates feelings through the juxtaposition of very sensory pictures, scenes and moments I was inspired to construct the film similarly. Rather than writing by consciously building meaning I turned to some of my dreams and built the script and scenes around what I feel about the world today. This kind of ‘open’ process of building scenes allowed me to work with all authors on the film in a way where they would have space to put their own experiences and feelings about the theme while staying in line with the emotional tone and context that I’ve initially based the scenes upon.
The poem originally appeared in Buzzfeed on November 9, 2016—the day after the election of Donald Trump—and was reprinted in Smith’s celebrated 2017 collection Don’t Call Us Dead. It’s the latest episode in Motionpoems’ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President,” which has been pretty sensational so far. Kudos all around.
This film of Brendan Constantine‘s brilliant anti-gun poem (click through for the text) kicked off a promising new YouTube channel called Blank Verse Films, the work of L.A.-based filmmaker Mike Gioia. He described his modus operandi in an email: “I travel around filming poets, and then edit the recitations into little films.” He added,
Making the videos is much more challenging and exciting than I originally anticipated. I’m trying lots of different approaches but still don’t feel like I’ve “cracked the code” of how to film poetry. Later this month I’m going to try some experiments with dramatic reenactments of poems that will use actors who speak the lines of poetry.
Dear Robot 2018 is a mail collaboration with Jeff Crouch and Diana Magallon music. A personal housebot goes rogue on an emergency disaster relief mission. Jeff and I have spent YEARS emailing each other links and articles about AI and robots and speculation about behavior.
This is the first in a projected series of City Odes directed, shot and edited by Sheldon Chau, in collaboration with poet Lilian Mehrel (herself also an award-winning filmmaker), actor Achiaa Prempeh, who helped inspire the text, and composer John Corlis. Here’s the description:
A woman looks for her place in New York City as she contemplates the meaning of the word, “home.”
The City Odes Project is a passion project in which my composer and I will collaborate with a poet and an actor to create a humanist, emotional, and visual story amidst the backdrop of a particularly city. “In Between Words” is the first of many to come, and kicks off this series in the city I currently reside in – New York City. The narrative was birthed out of an eagerness to collaborate with Achiaa, my actress, who now lives in New York and is originally from Ghana. In speaking with her, I decided to pursue a story about someone searching for home; a woman who is figuring out if NYC is the place for her, who is coming to terms that she is 5,000 miles away from her original home in West Africa, and thus easing out tensions with her mother, who of course wants her to return. The final result here features the work of Lilian Mehrel – a fellow filmmaker and classmate of mine back at NYU Grad Film school – who captures these feelings through her words, and my frequent collaborator John Corlis – an LA-based musician and composer – who complements the poetry with his mixture of piano and strings.
Please, enjoy this short poetry video and my ode to New York City.
Go to Vimeo for the complete credits and text.
Australian filmmaker Jutta Pryor (film and sound production) collaborated with Romanian American poet Claudia Serea (text and voice). There’s also a version without the titling, but I think this one’s better for savoring the poem’s unusual vocabulary: the etymology of “moth,” plus some of the more bizarre names of actual moth species.
To me, though, the most impressive thing about this filmpoem is its successful use of pretty literal imagery—footage of a moth—without in any way seeming to reduce or pin down the text. If anything, I think it leaves it more open. Why this succeeds, when so many similar efforts by lesser filmmakers fail, I’m not entirely sure. I love how the camera seems to adopt a moth’s erratic flight toward the end.
“Video poem made in a abandoned wool factory in Portugal for the museum of Guarda by Pat van Boeckel and Peter van der Pol”, says the Vimeo description. The Guarda City Museum (Museu da Guarda) is in central Portugal.
The English in the subtitles has a few problems, but the film, centered on an art installation, is so imaginative, it more than makes up for it. In fact it’s the Portuguese that’s a translation; Pessoa, who was raised in Durban, South Africa, wrote the poem in English under the heteronym Alexander Search, and the film uses a much later Portuguese translation by Luísa Freire. Pat van Boeckel notes that it’s not a well-known poem even in Portugal.
Updated with more accurate information about the poem’s provenance.