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 may be a basic video (from the livestream by Katalogon of Poetry International Festival Rotterdam, 2 June 2018), but it is nevertheless essential watching: a master poet at the top of his game calling out the rot at the heart of the American dream. The text is from Danez Smith’s award-winning collection Don’t Call Us Dead and has been reprinted online at Literary Hub.