"Hoop Dreams" for poets
Ronnie Scheib of Variety reviews "To Be Heard," the collaborative documentary about the lives of three Bronx high school students enrolled in a poetry course that won both the competition and audience award at this year's Doc NYC Fest.
Reminiscent of the years-spanning intimacy of "Love and Diane" or "Hoop Dreams," the docu plays like a three-pronged, true-life version of "Precious," but studded with pithy, evocative verse and without that film's ingrained sense of otherness. Preeming at the Doc NYC fest, where it topped its competition section and won the audience award, this well-crafted docu, skedded for PBS broadcast next year, merits a theatrical run in the interim.
Filmed over the course of five years with two of the poetry instructors also serving as producer-directors, behind-the-camera assistance from the students, and with almost all of the production team coming from inside the school, the documentary's open process mirrors the writing classroom's, allowing the stories (and the poets) to define themselves.
The admonition, "If you don't learn to write your life story, someone else will write it for you," serves as the class's inspiration. Not the least of the docu's accomplishments is the way it penetrates the students' extracurricular environment, the camera capturing their overhead subway-crossed streets and cramped rooms in vivid, resonant compositions. Viewers can readily feel the pull of forces arrayed against self-definition and clearly see what a story written by others might have spelled out.