Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Joaquin Phoenix Gets His Stoner Detective Groove On In Trailer For Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ Watch: Joaquin Phoenix Gets His Stoner Detective Groove On In Trailer For Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ David Fincher Will Direct The Entire First Season Of HBO's 'Utopia' In 2015 David Fincher Will Direct The Entire First Season Of HBO's 'Utopia' In 2015 Brad Pitt Says 'Fury' Co-Star Shia LaBeouf Is "One Of The Best Actors I've Ever Seen" Brad Pitt Says 'Fury' Co-Star Shia LaBeouf Is "One Of The Best Actors I've Ever Seen" First Look: Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult In Drake Doremus’ Sci-Fi Film ‘Equals’ First Look: Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult In Drake Doremus’ Sci-Fi Film ‘Equals’ John Cusack Says Hollywood Is A "Whorehouse" That "Eats Young Actors Up And Spits Them Out" John Cusack Says Hollywood Is A "Whorehouse" That "Eats Young Actors Up And Spits Them Out" New Image From 'Inherent Vice,' Paul Thomas Anderson Completely Changed The Ending From Thomas Pynchon's Book New Image From 'Inherent Vice,' Paul Thomas Anderson Completely Changed The Ending From Thomas Pynchon's Book Why 'You're The Worst' Turned Out To Be The Best TV Show Of The Summer Why 'You're The Worst' Turned Out To Be The Best TV Show Of The Summer Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody New Look: Reese Witherspoon And Joaquin Phoenix In Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' New Look: Reese Witherspoon And Joaquin Phoenix In Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens & More Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens & More 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" While You're Waiting For 'Interstellar,' Here's Over 100 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy While You're Waiting For 'Interstellar,' Here's Over 100 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

DOC NY '10 Review: 'To Be Heard' Is An Absorbing Look At Urban Life Through Beat Poetry

The Playlist By Christopher Bell | The Playlist October 26, 2010 at 10:03AM

Doc NY, New York's Documentary Film Festival, runs November 3-9. We've got an early peek at a few films.
2


Doc NY, New York's Documentary Film Festival, runs November 3-9. We've got an early peek at a few films.

If there ever was a film that shouldn't work as well as it does, it's "To Be Heard." Following three Harlem Bronx high-schoolers (Anthony, Pearl, and Karina) as they use spoken word/beat poetry to escape their hard-knock life, the movie has "inspirational feel good story" written all over it, and those reading the simple logline are likely to write it off as such. The directors (count'em: Amy Sultan, Roland Legiardi-Laura, Edwin Martinez, and Deborah Shaffer) likely knew this would be the case, and decided to destroy any negative pre-conceived notions with their first shot. The cold opening is a static frame of a drudgy NYC area, first silent with sound gradually coming until settling at a high volume. It appropriately sets the atmosphere; that of a cold, crowded city that's easy to get overwhelmed or left behind in. It's a very unconventional, impressive way to open a movie, and it's effective in its simplicity and strength. After the title fades in, we are introduced to the characters, the self-titled 'Tripod,' as they spout off a poem together. The energy is absorbing, and from here on out the film is a consistently engaging experience.

The tripod, despite sharing an identical interest and vaguely similar living situations, have their own unique difficulties that they must overcome. Anthony is stubborn, leading him to trouble with authority figures including those in school. Pearl deals with issues regarding her appearance and must hold a job in retail to make ends meet. Karina and her mother constantly fight (READ: brawl), she often finds herself kicked out of the house or living in a terribly tense dwelling. While the leads are certainly in bad situations, the film-makers smartly avoid a gigantic pity-party, lending much respect to their subjects and their lives. The camera is nothing but a bystander, capturing life without interfering in it (even during the worst moments), and avoiding typical documentary conventions by offering few formal talking-head interviews, instead focusing on interactions and events.

The central setting is a poetry program in their school called "Power Writing," which teaches radical free-form poetry. The teachers there not only encourage them to bare their souls through their writing, they also introduce them to various options to further their career, visiting a former member at his current college and taking the class to a poetry slam contest. Outside of class, the film offers us raw experiences, from serious issues like the three discussing Anthony's imprisonment or joyful smaller moments like Karina getting ready for prom. These authentic sequences leave a real dent in the heart because they are so damned genuine; a great example of good documentary film-making. By capturing the absolute essence of their subject and, again, not being too terribly one-sided in their portrayal (aka overly grim and conquering), the film-makers invigorate a story whose power has, over time, waned through overuse by late-night TV shows.

As the three go through their various ups and downs, the energy of their personalities and performances pulsates and dictates the flow of the film. The end comes quickly, and the connection between audience and subject is so strong that an ending to their tale seems almost rude. One of the surprise hits of DOC-NY, "To Be Heard" may seem like it's the same old tired routine, but everyone involved refuses to succumb to mediocrity. [A-]

This article is related to: To Be Heard


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates