"Louder Than A Bomb" slams stereotypes
Anyone who loves spoken word art forms or thinks teens have mall-and-reality-TV tunnel vision might wanna check out "Louder Than A Bomb," a spotlight presentation documentary that's part of the third annual Milwaukee Film Festival, Sept. 22-Oct. 2.
"Louder Than A Bomb" follows numerous teens as they prepare for and compete in the 2008 poetry slam competition – also called "Louder Than A Bomb" – which is the largest teen slam in the country. Teams and individuals from 60 high schools compete and the finalists contend for the top spot during a sold-out performance in a massive Chicago theater.
Poetry slams, which originated in the '80s in Chicago, are spectator sport poetry readings. The lively performances are closer to rap than traditional, less-accessible poetry readings where slammers are rated on a 10-point scale by judges who rate them based on their presentation, emotion and strength of the poem itself.
Directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel focused on one team and three individuals.
Adam Gottlieb, who attends Northside College Prep, is so articulate, intelligent and charismatic that he will blow away most viewers. For most people, Gottlieb's understanding of himself and the way he relates to the world is something that materializes anywhere from a decade to a lifetime beyond his chronological age. His warm and mature relationship with his parents is downright touching, and his honest poem that takes a hard look at suburban Jews (he is Jewish) proves that he can be critical, heartfelt and entertaining all at the same time.
The film also follows Nova Venerable from Oak Park / River Forest High School. Her poetry is mired in her familial strife which includes an absentee father and a special needs brother, whom she cares for like a mother. Venerable's ability to channel pain and anger into rhythmic poetry demonstrates what a talented, emotionally strong individual she is.
Like Venerable, Whitney Young Magnet High School's Nate Marshall, who was born to addicts, churns home-life challenges into stunning wordplay. He deeply defies stereotypes when, at one point, is forced to pick basketball or poetry and chooses poetry.
Finally, the 99-minute film showcases a team of five teens from Steinmetz High School, who call themselves The Steinenauts. The Steinenauts are the 2007 Louder Than A Bomb returning champions. The central city school never won much of anything prior to the slam and they return, under the direction of Coach Sloan, to repeat the victory.
The film is reminiscent of a much rawer version of "Akeelah and the Bee," where a young, poor girl competes in the National Spelling Bee.
The best part about "Louder" is that the poetry is captivating and high quality for any age slammer, and the fact that these particular artists are teens makes it all the more impressive. Also, through their words both on and off the stage, we get to peek into the lives of kids who are not video game vegetables or texting-obsessed zombies, rather thinking, feeling, expressing soon-to-be adults who will hopefully continue to find the spotlight and lead a few others out of the darkness.
"Louder Than A Bomb" airs Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Oriental Theater at 5:15 p.m. and on Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Ridge Cinema at 7:15 p.m.
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