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MARCH 25, 2010   

It made my day

Poetry slam team on stageI've seen many documentaries, and a lot of films over the years at the Cleveland International Film Festival. I can't think of any that affected me more strongly than today's Louder Than A Bomb.

As on Tuesday, I came to the Film Festival to make a sales pitch for Tri-C, a sponsor of the special program of films for high school students called Film Slam.

The auditorium was nearly full with students who aren't always the most attentive or respectful audience. Today was different, though. In a way that may have surprised them as much as me, they saw themselves on the screen.

LTAB follows four groups of Chicago-area students as they prepare for and compete in a competitive poetry performances called poetry slams. Each group was from a different high school. One was an underperforming urban school, another was upscale suburban. Eventually the teams met at the LTAB finals in downtown Chicago.

Even though points are scored and there are winners and losers, winning isn't everything. The participants' motto is "The point is not the points, the point is the poetry."


I'm not going to attempt to describe the beauty, the bravery, the joy or the pain that we saw on screen. I will tell you, though, that it brought me to tears more than once. Even describing to Joanne one part that hit very close to home choked me up the next day.

And it wasn't just me. Students in the audience cheered and clapped during the competition as if they were in the room. I suspect a few may have been wiping tears aways as I did. But probably most telling was the absolute silence in the auditorium at a few critical points in the movie. Try getting several hundred high school students to be absolutely quiet for any reason.

When the film ended and the applause stopped, one of the movie's directors, Jon Siskel, was introduced. Listen to the reaction:

Near the end of the Q&A session, Jon called on a young man in the back of the auditorium:

Who am I to disagree?

For me, I can tell you that I've been looking at teenagers differently since seeing the film. The positive feelings stayed with me all day.


On Sunday night the CIFF announced that LTAB won both the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for best film, and the Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Film Competition, which honors movies about social justice and activism.

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