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.
In the summer of 2016, Maggie Smith sat in a Starbucks in Bexley, Ohio, and wrote a poem. “Life is short, though I keep this from my children,” it began. Smith had no idea that she was setting down the first lines of a work that would seize the mood — and social-media accounts — of so many people in the tumultuous year that was 2016.
A year later, Director Anais La Rocca teamed up with Maggie Smith to bring this poem to life in the short film “Good Bones”.
Good Bones is a heartfelt work that grapples with pain, injustice, unfairness and disillusionment— all in a fantastical story told through the eyes of a six year old girl and the voice of her mother.
Written, directed, produced and post produced by an all female team, this film embodies the power, strength and courage within women, and our responsibility to pass on and teach this courage to our little girls.
In the film, the mother takes on the role of a real estate agent: “I am trying/ to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real s***hole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”
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 simple but devastating poetry film pairs U.S. poet Maggie Smith with Irish filmmaker Kate Dolan. It’s the latest web release from Motionpoems’ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President”. As a nature lover I appreciated the inclusion of a starfish in one shot, subtly suggesting a link between the deaths of human refugees and of species impacted by global warming — a small but effective example of how a film can add additional dimensions to the poem on the page.
Directed by Savanah Leaf, this is the first film from Motionpoems’ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President,” to be released on the web. Tiana Clark‘s poem is included in her collection I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood, which won the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and is due out this fall from the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Click through to Vimeo for the full credits.