Then, as now, the number of films and their quality overwhelmed me. “We receive between eight hundred and one thousand films every year,” said Thomas Zandegiacomo Del Bel, the festival’s artistic director. The screeners get this number down to about two hundred, the number shown at the festival, a process that takes months. In an interview with Dave Bonta, Thomas stated that Zebra shows films no other film festival understands, films that don’t fit into easily understood categories, even ones as broad as “experimental” or “short short.”
I asked Thomas about the history of the festival. “In the year 2000, Thomas Wohlfahrt, the director of the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, was invited by poet/professor Bob Holman to come to New York. Bob showed him several short films with readings of well-known poets. When Thomas watched these films, he had the idea to create an award for short films based on poems. Back in Berlin he got together with Heinz Hermanns, the Festival Director of interfilm Berlin. In 2001 Thomas and Heinz invited filmmakers from all over the world to submit their poetry films. In 2002 the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin presented six hundred poetry films during the Berlin Poetry Festival.”
Thomas has run the festival since 2006. “Do you think the audience for poetry films is growing? How do you measure this?” I asked him.
“I don't think that the audience for poetry films is growing at the festival, because we had nearly the same number of visitors as in the last festivals. But I think that the online audience for poetry films is still growing, because from time to time I can see that some poetry films have more than 7 million clicks at YouTube and that's really amazing. Companies like Levi's or Apple present commercial spots with poetry. Film stars read poetry in short clips. So for me it is not really a direct process. Maybe poetry will become more and more interesting for a wide audience. But I think it is and will be a genre for a small audience compared to the international film industry; however, compared to the international poetry market, poetry films have a really big audience. This is a great opportunity for poetry: combined with film, poetry will reach a wider audience.”
About Zebra 2014, Thomas shared this observation:
“The recent festival has shown us that the quality of these poetry films is very high. We got so many amazing films that the decision about which film to place in the competition was very difficult. You could see this in the section ‘Prism.’
Interest in the poetry films was very high, and we have tried to give the film and festival makers and the poets more space and time for talks and for them to come together. And maybe they could start new projects for the next months or years.”
Zebra is a competition as well as a festival. Twenty-nine films were considered for five prizes. The winners:
Self-evident Things (Poland: Piotr Bosacki)
The Aegean, or the Anus of Death (Greece: Jazra Khaleed, Eleni Gioti)
The Pipes (Norway: Kristian Pedersen, Øyvind Rimbereid)
essen – stück mit aufblick (Germany: Peter Böving, Ernst Jandl)
And the winner of the Zebra Poetry Film Festival Best Poetry Film:
The Dice Player (Palestine/Egypt: Mahmoud Darwish, Nissmah Roshdy)
I sat down with Nissmah, who attended the German University of Cairo, for an interview on October 20. Dave Bonta from Moving Poems filmed our conversation here:
Nissmah explained that the writing the film depicts is part of an ancient Arabic tradition combining poetry and calligraphy, and that there is a lively “slang poetry” movement in Egypt among young people. Her film, “The Dice Player,” is based on a long poem by Mahmoud Darwish (she uses a portion of it) and adheres to the tradition:
I was honored to attend a screening of “12 Moons,” the poetry film project collaboration between Swoon (Marc Neys), Nic Sebastian, Kathy McTavish and me. It showed in the same program as Marc’s long work, “Circle.” I sat with the small but appreciative audience. It was gratifying to see the film on a large screen and to hear the soundtrack coming from the theater’s speakers. I’m happy to report that the film, which runs for roughly twenty minutes, held up well on the big screen.
Here is my list of ten video poems from the festival that deserve attention. These ten stand out for the quality of the poetry and visual collaboration, or for the creativity of poetic interpretation, or for some other intangible quality. Enjoy!
On the Mainland (Meginlandid): Hallur Örn Arnason, Iceland. Poem: On the Continent by Charles Bukowski.
Mathematics: Julian Hills, Ireland. Poem: Mathematics by Hollie McNish.
The Royal Oak: Sandra Salter, Benedict Newbery, UK. Poem: The Royal Oak by Benedict Newbery.
Kindness: Jana Irmert, Canada. Poem: Untitled by Jana Irmert.
The Nature of Things (Die Beschaffenheit der Dinge): Michel Dullisch. Poem: Im Treppenhaus wäscht Klee by Marie T. Martin.
The Last Thought of a Dying Ant: Brad Bischoff, US. Poem: The Last Thought of a Dying Ant by Brad Bischoff.
Embroidered: Andy Bonjour, US. Poem: Embroidered by Andy Bonjour.
Beyond Words: Helene Moltke-Leth, Denmark. Poem: Beyond Words by Else Beyer Knuth-Winterfeldt.
This World (Ten Świat): Zbigniew Czapla, Poland. Poem: Ten świat by Czeslaw Milosz.