Sunday Jul 14

ZEBRA Part 2 – Lights, Camera, Interactions

In this month’s column: insights from the colloquium “What Makes a Poetry Film a Poetry Film?”, pros and cons of the festival and prizes, and my own recommendations for outstanding poetry films from Zebra.

What makes a poetry film a poetry film? was the topic of the colloquium of the same name, held at the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in October in Berlin. An international group of poets, filmmakers, and scholars made up the panel: Antje Quast, an art historian from Cologne; Reynold Reynolds, a filmmaker from New York; Michael Roes, a writer and filmmaker from Berlin; and Endre Farkas, a poet from Toronto, who stood in for Tom Konyves, a poet and filmmaker from Canada and author of “Videopoetry: A Manifesto.” (Mr. Konyves could not attend the festival due to a family emergency). Martina Pfeiler, a cultural scientist from the TU Dortmund, moderated the panel.

A poetry film is more than just a visualized form of a poem. The panel shared their thoughts on which definition, if any, was appropriate for this art form. A definition comes with inherent dangers: too broad, and it loses meaning; too narrow, and it excludes too much. Endre Farkes, reading from Tom Konyves’s authoritative essay, “Videopoetry: A Manifesto,” offered this definition of videopoetry, the term Konyves prefers:

“Videopoetry is a genre of poetry displayed on a screen, distinguished by its time-based, poetic juxtaposition of images with text and sound. In the measured blending of these three elements, it produces in the viewer the realization of a poetic experience. Presented as a multimedia object of a fixed duration, the principle function of a videopoem is to demonstrate the process of thought and the simultaneity of experience, expressed in words – visible and/or audible – whose meaning is blended with, but not illustrated by, the images and the soundtrack.”

Naming can lead to understanding, and while The Third Form intends to be inclusive rather than definitive, I concur with most of the points Konyves makes in this passage. It’s neither too general nor too specific.

“The realization of a poetic experience” and the “poetic juxtaposition of images with text and sound” best describe my own encounters with poetry films. Last month, I wrote that as I watched the films at Zebra, I rated my emotional and intellectual responses to each film: did a particular film move me? Did it create a new insight? If so, how did it accomplish this? Over and over, I found these insights in the juxtapositions created between the poem, the story on the screen, and the soundtrack. The better the craft of each of these elements, the more authentic my experience was.

The following list includes poetry films from Zebra that passed the Emily Dickinson test: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” This list is by no means exclusive, but these films illustrate the craft and skill that makes for a richer experience.


10 Outstanding Poetry Films from the Zebra Poetry Film Festival 2012


1.      Piccola Cucina Cannibale (Little Cannibal Kitchen), Alberto Girotto, Italy; poem “Piccola Cucina Cannibale” by Lello Voce. A love that threatens to devour itself.

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2.      Syrinx, Maciek Majewski, Poland; poem “Syrinx” by Norbert Hummelts, Germany. Ambiguity, regret and longing develop in an encounter between two people. 

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3.      Proof, Swoon, Belgium; poem “Proof” by David Tomaloff; an eerie trip through the mind of a disturbed person.


4.      A Fora (Outside), Marc Capdevila Penya, Tia Zanguera, Albert Balasch, Spain; poem “A fora” by Albert Balasch. Stunning watercolors with the just the right amount of animation. I’ve watched this one over and over. Nominated for Best Debut.


5.      Achill, Gudrun Krebitz, Germany; poem “Achill” by Gudrun Krebitz. A young woman’s inner monologue accompanies her sketchbook, with drawings that are revealing, moody, and sometimes frightening. This is a trailer:


6.      Becoming Judas, Cheryl Gross, USA; poem “Becoming Judas” by Nicelle Davis. Mesmerizing visuals with one girl’s quirky bildungsroman, filtered through stories from the Bible.


7.      Human Condition, Mark Wilkinson, USA; poem “Human Condition” by Rich Ferguson. Ferguson appears in various guises throughout this high-energy, spoken-word performance.


8.      The City, Marie Silkeberg and Ghayath Almadhoun, Sweden; poems “The City” and “What Gas” by Marie Silkeberg and Ghayath Almadhoun. Buildings collapse as a myriad of voices read two poems about Damascus. Best in the “Place” category in the Co-Kisser Poetry Film Festival in Minneapolis.

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9.      Like This, David Martineau-Lachance, Canada; poem “Like This” by Rumi. Artwork and animation playfully illustrate Rumi’s classic poem.


10.  Hunter’s Green, Anne Duquennois, USA; poem “Hunter’s Green” by Lauren Eddy. A poem creates itself from text using the technique of erasure poetry. Nominated for the competition.


As beautifully made as these films are, they bring up a concern I’ve heard more than once: does a poetry film destroy the experience of the poem in a reader’s imagination? The panel didn’t think so; we agreed that poetry films will never replace poetry “on the page,” but that they have the potential to bring more readers to poetry. To the festival’s credit, poems and poets stood on equal ground with filmmakers.

Overall, I enjoyed the festival, and have nothing but praise for the Literturwerkstatt Berlin. The films were excellent. I have mixed feelings about the contest, though; I think there should be many more categories. A roundtable discussion with the poets would have been interesting, and the festival was definitely Euro-centric. However, these are small quibbles. I’m looking forward to Zebra 2014!

Next month: An interview and poems from Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg, videos, and a preview of upcoming film festivals for 2013.

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  -  Muriel Rukeyser