Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More 'Top Of The Lake' Season 2 Starts Shooting This Year, Elisabeth Moss Returns 'Top Of The Lake' Season 2 Starts Shooting This Year, Elisabeth Moss Returns Watch: Trailer For Bret Easton Ellis’ Penned Teen Horror ‘The Curse of Downers Grove’ With Bella Heathcote Watch: Trailer For Bret Easton Ellis’ Penned Teen Horror ‘The Curse of Downers Grove’ With Bella Heathcote Watch: Video Essay Counts Down The 10 Most Beautiful Movies Of All Time Watch: Video Essay Counts Down The 10 Most Beautiful Movies Of All Time Watch: Bond Is Back In New Trailer For 'Spectre' With Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, And More Watch: Bond Is Back In New Trailer For 'Spectre' With Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, And More Alejandro González Iñárritu Still Has To Shoot The Finale Of 'The Revenant' Alejandro González Iñárritu Still Has To Shoot The Finale Of 'The Revenant' The 20 Best Films Of 2015 So Far The 20 Best Films Of 2015 So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season Stephen King Says Wendy In Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "One Of The Most Misogynistic Characters Ever Put On Film" Stephen King Says Wendy In Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "One Of The Most Misogynistic Characters Ever Put On Film" All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie Martin Scorsese Names His 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time Martin Scorsese Names His 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time

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

Photo of Christopher Bell 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