To Be Heard —To Be Heard is a feature documentary that follows a trio of young spoken-word performers as they work through their teen angst, putting their feelings into verse. It’s called “power-writing”, a process brought into their inner-city high school in the Bronx by a trio of intense mentors.
Often you need to search for “the phrase” that sums up what’s the idea of a film. This one is chalk-a-block full of them — but I guess it’s natural that a film about spoken word performance would be salted full of colourful quotes. The tag, “If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you” is just a start. But that’s the currency these kids and their teachers trade in.
But these kids are performers. They thrive on having an audience and the rush they get from performing. These kids know that this is their opportunity to dig deep and, through writing and performing (and being watched by the filmmakers), to re-describe themselves, turning their tumultuous lives into art. This process is part of that rewriting. And they are awesomely talented.
Their lives are dramatic. Shades of Baltimore’s The Corner and The Wire; generational poverty, temptations of drugs, gangs, violence. Single mom families, dads missing, some in prison. They are all in that same pressure cooker scenario, all on top of the usual teen turmoil. Words are their haven. Notebooks are constantly at hand. Their poetry is like the steam shrieking out the top. Could spoken word be their ticket out?
And as the filmmakers follow these very powerful young people through a most formative and dramatic year of their lives – it works. Sharply shot and slickly edited and full of unexpected real turns, a lot of joy, hurt, and energy. This, as their mentors remind them, is their “first chapter.”
This film has already scored a heap of awards, and now the coveted Movie Monday thumbs up.
Fri. • Feb. 10 • Odeon Th2 • 7pm
Directors: Amy Sultan, Roland Legiardi-Laura,
Deborah Shaffer, Edwin Martinez
USA • 2010 • 87 min • HDCam
Review by Bruce Saunders, Movie Monday