A small but perfectly formed British doc that foregrounds the joys of poetry over its competition-based structure.
The opening scene of plucky British documentary We Are Poets is so striking and stunning that it’s immediately clear we’re in safe hands. It transports us from the noisy chaos of local poetry collective, Leeds Young Authors, to the Brave New Voices slam poetry championship in Washington DC and focusing on the six young Leeds-based poets who will compete there.
The film clocks in at less than 90 minutes, but manages to answer the question that has surrounded young people for years: ‘when did passion become so uncool?’. We Are Poets offers an energetic, rousing response: ‘never’.
These six teenagers are passionate and utterly dedicated to slam poetry, the art of writing, to the hours of rehearsal and to the skill of performance. Co-directors Daniel Lucchesi and Alex Ramseyer-Bache allow their subjects to be the stars, letting their talent and enthusiasm speak independently, with only the occasional talking head from a parent or mentor taking the focus away from the young team.
The film culminates in the exhilarating Brave New Voices championship which is possibly the best screen advertisement in a long while for the idea that it’s not about winning, it’s about taking part. The audience is treated to stunning poetry from a pan-global array of young people and that there is next to no tension or suspense as to whether Leeds will win outright. Their sheer skill and commitment is what the film rides on, not infighting or underdog status in the face of their American counterparts.
Poet Saul Williams makes a particularly memorable appearance, demanding that ‘slam poetry’, ‘performance poetry’ and ‘spoken word’ are all replaced with ‘poetry’, highlighting the importance of poetry’s oral tradition over the more recent written form.
This is a powerful message that would come across even without Williams: they are poets. The fact they are young, black, hijabi or from a council estate can never rob them of this glory.
A documentary that attempts to prove that it's OK to like poetry? Your funeral...
Joyfully unsentimental and pays a great deal of respect to the subjects.
Seriously memorable with some spine-tingling recitals.