As a filmmaker and publisher of Rattapallax magazine, I am often asked what is a poetry film?
My publication is on the vanguard of creating and presenting poetry films, so I have seen a wide range of them. I use three simple criteria in defining what is a poetry film. The film has a poem at its center, and the poem is either spoken or presented in the film. The first definition pertains to most of the poetry films being made by filmmakers. Second, the film needs to be inspired by a poem, but does not necessarily have a poem spoken or presented in the film. A perfect example is Tiger which is based on William Blake’s poem The Tyger. The filmmaker, Guilherme Marcondes, never used a line from the poet; rather he portrays the poem using puppets and animation.* Lastly, the film is about a poet – this is more controversial because it mixes documentary or fiction with poetry. Is Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly** a poetry film since it’s about the poet Charles Bukowski? How about Howl*** staring James Franco portraying Allen Ginsberg?
In the end, I mixed the entire genre and called it ›poetry-based‹ films in order to be more encompassing. For many filmmakers making a poetry-based film is an ideal way to get started in filmmaking. A poem is an excellent script and in most cases is free or pretty cheap to use. The poetry-based film is short and perfect for festival programmers to plug into their line-up. Lastly, a poetry-based film allows the auteur to interpret the poem in whatever way they like and gives them enough latitude to create something unique and their own. A best poetry-based film should be more honest to the vision of the filmmaker than the poet.
Soon this small and vibrant genre is going to be challenged with new technological formats that are already challenging traditional fiction and documentary filmmakers. One such technology is virtual reality (VR) which allows the user to fully immerse themselves into an alternative world through a headset like Oculus VR or Google Cardboard. Some of the best VR stories challenge your senses by bending reality. While others create empathy with the subjects you encounter by allowing you to live their experiences. I think VR is ripe for remarkable collaborations between poets and VR designers for the same reasons poetry-based films were for filmmakers and poets. Currently all VR modules are short because of the lengthy time it takes to create them and the large files sizes that need to be downloaded. Virtual reality, like poetry-based films, lets the designer to interpret the poem and go deep into the metaphors. I am curious what ingenious new work will be created in the new emerging genre of ›virtual reality based poems‹? I am sure someone is working on the first one.
* See Guilherme Marcondes: Tiger. Brasilien 2006, 4:34 Min.
** See Barbet Schroeder: Barfly. USA 1987, 100 Min.
*** See Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman: Howl. USA 2010, 84 Min.
About the Author
Ram Devineni is a filmmaker, publisher and founder of Rattapallax films and magazine. He produced, edited and directed the feature documentary The Human Tower, which was shot in India, Chile, and Spain. Recently, he produced The Russian Woodpecker, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. He is the co-creator of the augmented reality comic book, Priya’s Shakti, which received the 2014 Tribeca Film Institute New Media Fund from the Ford Foundation.
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