Posts Tagged: Motionpoems

The Dream by Tishani Doshi

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

This 2013 film from Motionpoems, directed by Babe Elliott Baker, adapts Tishani Doshi‘s poem “The Dream” from her collection Everything Begins Elsewhere. For the full credits, see Baker’s website.

“The Dream” was featured on PBS NewsHour in 2016, and Doshi talked about how she came to write the text.

In 2008 she was commissioned to write a series of poems about migration and movement. One of them, “The Dream,” is directly based on her impressions when she first moved to North Carolina.

“I loved that there were all these houses that had front porches and there were no gates. The houses themselves seemed so welcoming. Unlike India, there were no gates around the American houses— they were all just so open. In India there is a boundary around everything.”

But the poem is also about what immigrants do to create a sense of home in a new place.

“You want to hold onto something old, but you want to create something new. You want to make the new place feel like home, even though you’re not in your home. There’s a constant tension between the past and the present.”

While this background is certainly interesting, I wish they’d acknowledged in the discussion how the film suggests other interpretations as well. (And it’s a tribute to the poet that her text has this quality of openness.) I’m not sure why I didn’t share the film back when it first came out, but to me it really speaks to our present moment of pandemic gardening and surveillance-state oppression. As someone who dabbles in ecopoetry myself, I’m fascinated by what might be called postmodern pastoralism, which is totally not a phrase I just made up (thanks, Google!) so this week that’s what we’ll be looking at: how videopoets and poetry filmmakers imagine nature and the pastoral in a world of accelerating ecological impoverishment and deprivation.

I come from the fire city. by Eve L. Ewing

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

Chicago poet and sociologist Eve L. Ewing‘s 2017 poem in a 16mm film adaptation for Motionpoems (Season 8) by director Daniel Daly, with cinematography by Josh Farmelo. See its page on Daly’s website for the list of festival selections, which include ZEBRA in Berlin and the 50th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.

The voiceover is from the lone actor in the film, Khadija Shari, and while I would still like the film without knowing that, I do love how much this suggests about the way a cherished, powerful poem can inhabit someone until they know it by heart and it becomes part of the rhythm of their life. At that point, can it really still be said to be the sole property of its author?

The poem originally appeared in Ewing’s widely praised first collection Electric Arches from Chicago’s Haymarket Books, an increasingly prominent left-wing press named for the famous Haymarket riot of May 4, 1886. In a review for Public Books, Jehan Roberson notes:

To read Eve L. Ewing is to read Chicago. […] It’s important to know that Chicago has historically been an oasis for Black aspirations, particularly during northern journeys during the Great Migration; it is also the place where so many of those dreams fell prey to institutions built to halt Black prosperity. Redlining, predatory lending, forced segregation, and some of the nation’s highest homicide rates are part of the city’s backdrop, past and present. So are the hopes of Black folks. Black artists have charted both Chicagos: Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun, Richard Wright in Native Son, Gwendolyn Brooks in poetry that registered the city’s awe and perils.

In many ways and for many artists, Chicago is a genesis and a promised land. Ewing’s Chicago burns brighter than the many fires that have leveled the city, illuminates more strongly than the spotlights wielded by a media eager to highlight Black death. Her writing maps the spirit of the city, a spirit that many argue has vanished, but that Ewing maintains is still pulsating with Black dreams and potential.

This poetry film invites us to imagine that city by imagining how the poet or actor/reader might imagine it — a lesson for so many filmmakers whose first instinct is to treat a poem as a script.

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.

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

Motionpoems’ latest release is based on U.S. poet Maggie Smith‘s viral poem. As director Anaïs La Rocca explains,

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.”

For the text of the poem, see Waxwing, where it originally appeared — or get hold of Smith’s 2017 collection, also titled Good Bones.

You’re Dead, America by Danez Smith

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

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.

Every Day by Robin Coste Lewis

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

The physical and spiritual planes intersect in Ryan Simon‘s meditatively paced adaptation of a poem by Robin Coste Lewis, part of Motionpoems’ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President.”

Small Shoes by Maggie Smith

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

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.