“The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”
That’s the motto of the Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Slam, Chicago’s youth spoken word event held each spring and now in its 10th year. It’s also repeated periodically by several participants featured in the Louder Than a Bomb documentary, a new film that chronicled the 2008 competition. Four Chicago area schools are featured. The film has been shown at film festivals and screened at some of the participating schools. It won a Best Film award at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.
The 100-minute film was produced by Chicago-based film company Siskel/Jacobs Productions. The film was shown recently at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a neighboring suburban school. Those in attendance cheered as the credits rolled. During a Q&A afterward with co-director Jon Siskel and two of the students featured in the film, some in attendance even admitted to being moved to tears.
The proceeds from that April 21 screening went to the Ishma Stewart Memorial Scholarship Fund. In May 2008, Stewart became the unintended victim of a shooting on the South Side. She had been a member of the Oak Park school’s spoken word club. Stewart’s family established the memorial after her death.
Nearly $100 from ticket sales was donated to her fund. Her friend, Nova Venerable, was one of the teens featured in the film. A 2008 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, Venerable’s poem “Cody,” about her younger brother with special needs, was among the highlights of the film, according to her former coach and teacher, Peter Kahn, the club’s advisor. He was also featured in the film.
“It was artfully done. And seeing Nova and those different sides of her, especially with her brother, that was really something,” he said.
Also at the screening was Ishma’s mother, Tracy Stewart-Polk, along with other members of her family. She said the film was wonderful, and she remembers Ishma’s and Nova’s friendship.
The filmmakers followed Steinmetz, Whitney Young, Oak Park and Northside College Prep high schools as the students and coaches prepared for the ’08 slam. They also filmed aspects of the students’ personal lives. Steinmetz had won the previous year and was favored to win it again. Former students Kevin Harris and Lamar Jorden, both now in college, were at the April 21 screening and with a little encouragement from the audience, Kevin broke into a few verses of a poem.
The filmmakers shot twice as much footage than what ended up in the film. That also meant only being able to feature a handful of students from each team. That didn’t bother Alicia Davis, a senior at Oak Park who was part of the ’08 slam team but was left out of the film.
“I had such a good experience. It’s a very inspirational film, so I don’t mind that I was cut out,” she said-with a smile-after the screening.
Siskel said he would like to premiere the documentary at the Chicago International Film Festival in October, and hopes to get in broadcast on HBO or PBS. The filmmakers did have a focus in mind when the started but ultimately let the story tell itself.
“”When you film, it’s real life,” Siskel said. “You can’t map it out.”