By Lindsay McCormack, Editorial Intern
Photo by credit: Edwin Martinez
Did you catch Roland Legiardi-Laura’s documentary, To Be Heard,last weekend? It aired on local PBS stations several times throughout the weekend and was well worth watching.
It tells a story that is both grim and hopeful. It follows three teens who hope to escape their poverty-stricken lives in the Bronx. They want to go to college and see more of the world. They want to stay out of prison and away from harm. The teenagers in this film are stunningly talented poets.
Anthony, Karina, and Pearl are high school juniors, all facing complex issues at school and at home. In poetry class, the three expose their innermost thoughts and emotions to their classmates on a daily basis.
Pearl, who struggles with obesity and body image, dreams both to overcome these societal pressures and to go to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. In the film, we watch her find confidence and see herself in a new light. One particularly striking scene takes place at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. In the same woods where Henry Thoreau lived and wrote, Pearl stands among the trees and stretches her arms in all directions. She makes way for the sun, allowing herself to take up space and feel free in her own skin.
Anthony, who struggles to stay out of jail, is perhaps the most talented and volatile of this group. Though his mouth is quick to get him in trouble with school authorities, he becomes someone else when he recites poetry. His words aren’t necessarily cleaner when he’s speaking poetry, but there’s meaning behind them—he is a rapper without the bass or the kick-drum. Performing on stage before a screaming audience, words pour from him effortlessly, his arms pulsing and pumping before him like a conductor. His nervous energy practically leaps from through the screen.
Karina, Anthony’s girlfriend during part of the film, struggles with realities that many young girls can relate to: a painful relationship with her mother and pressure to act as a parent to her younger siblings. She not only takes on this challenge at home—we see her loving and gentle nature with her little siblings—but she transforms these difficulties into a fiery poetic energy. She makes art out of her teenage exhaustion. She has the teachers, friends, and talent that allow her to channel something very rare and compelling.
Though the relationship between Karina and Anthony is not the main focus of the film—nothing can overshadow the poetry that the rest of the story revolves around—it is refreshing to see a genuine, loving relationship between two young people. With all of the Ronnie-and-Sam-esque crap thrown at us every day, here is a young romance that is beautiful and genuinely dramatic.
This is not just another documentary about poverty and suffering. This film is about being young and trying to find your own voice. It is about what great teachers can do, and the talent we must recognize in each other and ourselves. For this movie-goer, Legiardi-Laura’s 2011 documentary To Be Heard is pure poetry.
For more information about the film, see www.tobeheard.org; Click here to find local listings for upcoming broadcasts. To arrange for a screening, or learn more about the launch of the world’s first mobile/online poetry community for youth, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: http://www.facebook.com/powerpoetry.