By Alison Rooney
The Depot Theatre was literally packed to the rafters on Friday night at the Depot Docs screening of To Be Heard, a film that follows the lives of three Bronx high school students whose participation in a radical poetry workshop sparks a growth in self-awareness and, with it, a conviction to alter and improve their lives. As life would have it, especially life in impoverished areas, this is not accomplished without impediments and struggle, and there are no neat, tied-up-in-a-bow Hollywood endings, much as we collectively wish there were.
To quote James O’Barr’s advance review , “As we watch those lives unfold, each with its successes, setbacks, heartbreaks, and hard-won growth … real learning is summed up by [one of the teachers] Ms. Sultan: “If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you.” Proof of that statement was provided by the evening’s surprise special guest, the magnetic Pearl Quick, one of the film’s subjects, now a 24-year-old Sarah Lawrence student, who attended along with the previously announced guest, the film’s director/producer Deborah Shaffer. At the conclusion of the showing, after the traditional Depot Docs question and answer session, filmgoers were treated to a live recitation by Quick of her poem Warm Drums. [CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO]
Receiving a very real lesson in ‘writing your own life story’ through viewing the film was a large contingent of Haldane High School students who were invited to attend the film by Depot Docs and partially subsidized by Philipstown.info, one of Depot Docs’ sponsors. The teenagers, all students of Haldane English teacher Dr. Eric Richter, were members of the Literary Magazine, Poetry Out Loud project, creative writing class and/or the drama class. The students were enthralled with this slice-of-life very different to what they have experienced. Many were seen in animated conversation with Pearl Quick for a lengthy spell at the post-screening reception at Garrison Art Center. Here are some of their reactions:
Dima Spinelli: “I thought the film was very insightful. I learned a lot about three people who matured and made something out of themselves in such a short time, which I thought was awesome. What was interesting was that the three friends supported each other, which really was what got them by. To Be Heard was a great documentary. I enjoyed the fact that something like poetry could be a kind of rehab for Anthony and a way of expressing the feelings of the three people. Overall, this film was great and a way of showing how people with almost nothing could make a name for themselves.”
Gus Kristiansen: “I thought it was a great film, with a great message. And afterwards when Pearl showed up; that made it even better. It’s such a different experience hearing her actually recite a poem after watching the film and seeing all their struggles. I thought it was one of the best things I’ve seen at the theater since I’ve first been there.”
Cal Lane: “The movie was definitely great, and I’m sure that everyone who decided to attend was glad they did. And I think I’m speaking for everyone when I say that the true highlight of the event was actually getting to meet one of the talented performers that I had been getting to know, through the film, for the past two hours.”
For teacher Dr. Richter, “I thought the film was a powerful statement on how the writing of poetry can be a process of self-discovery and psychological healing. It also conveyed how writing can be an instrument by which lasting friendships are formed. I was not only impressed by the student-poets featured in the film but by their instructors as well, for the film also documents the profound influence excellent teachers can have on their students, an influence that can extend well beyond the classroom.” Dr. Richter is hoping to obtain a copy of To Be Heard to screen for the students who were unable to attend.
Before the film began, at the invitation of Depot Docs, three Haldane students recently named as school winners of the Poetry Out Loud competition, Conor Austin, Lindy Labriola and Cal Lane [CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO] performed their poems for the crowd, gaining experience that will serve them well as they move on to the regional competition next month.
The next Depot Docs screening will the March 23 showing of Page One: Inside the New York Times, an insider’s look at the newsroom and the inner workings of the Media Desk. Reserve tickets in advance at brownpapertickets.com.