Spotlight: Two Films Combining Poetry and Motion to Reflect on Racism

By David Schonauer   Wednesday May 2, 2018

The combination of poetry and motion is powerful.

No wonder: Both use imagery to construct narrative, evince emotion and stir thought.

Today we spotlight two shorts that use poetry and emotion to reflect on racism: The first is THE AYES HAVE IT Motion Poems, from Los Angeles- and London-based director and photographer Savanna Leaf, who is also a former professional volleyball player. (She competed for the Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympic Games.) The film, a Vimeo Staff Pick, brings together a poem by Tiana Clark with a story by Leaf and evocative black-and-white and color visuals shot by director of photographer Joel Honeywell. At Vimeo, Leaf notes that the film is “For Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and every family denied justice.”

The second film, Where Are the African Gods?, comes from Brooklyn-born director Rodney Passé  and uses the words and voice of late writer and jazz singer Abbey Lincoln to meditate on black masculinity. “Abbey Lincoln’s poem is a chilling reminder of black society’s struggle with self-image,” explains Passé at Nowness.


Savanah’s visual interpretation of the Tiana Clark’s poem is inspired by news reports about the murders of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin “and manages to be rooted in realism despite its sometimes bold, abstract imagery,” noted Black Book recently. “The poem doesn’t shy away from the truth,” says Leaf in an interview. “So with the film, I wanted to create that same feeling with vivid imagery that directly speaks to important moments in history and the emotional impact on people in US society.”

The film was shot on 16mm film, mixing together black-and-white and color. “This worked really well with the poetry as well as the viewers’ experience of the film,” says Leaf. “Ultimately, the goal was to create a film where the viewer becomes a participant in the film experience, which involved many different aspects in cinematography and sound.” Leaf’s other motion work includes the short F Word.

Where Are the African Gods?

“Where are the African gods? Did they leave us on our journey over here? Where are the African gods? Will we know them when they suddenly appear?”

Those words, spoken by the late writer and jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, form the question that Brooklyn-born director Rodney Passé contemplates in his new short. The film “movingly captures moments from the perspective of African American men and their sons," notes Nowness. Passé, who has previously worked with music video director Khalil Joseph, used a recording of Lincoln as the basis of his film

“Abbey Lincoln’s poem is a chilling reminder of black society’s struggle with self-image,” says Passé. Of his experiment with spoken-word and music, Passé says, “The arrangement is heart-felt, capturing moments from the perspective of African American men and their sons, while celebrating the essence of black culture and honoring its significance in today’s society.”


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