Poetry Film Festival Verse on the Screen

Zandegiacomo Del Bel; Foto: Zebra Poetry Film Festival
Zandegiacomo Del Bel | Photo (detail): © Zebra Poetry Film Festival

Poems create images in the head. No wonder that poetic works have been translated into the language of film since the early days of cinema. The diversity of poetry film may be seen every two years at a festival in Berlin. In autumn 2012, the national focus will fall on Poland.

Some problems are best solved with a chainsaw: a farmer may call two oxen his own, and yet it is rather they that own him, have him clapped in harness and toil in the fields, while they play cards over a fresh tapped beer. Until, that is, Santa Claus gives the farmer a chainsaw, the farmer fires up the motor and makes short work of the lazy beasts. For lunch the next day there is ox steak. Merry Christmas!

With the destructive pleasure of a comic book

The author, Ignacy Krasicki, was not yet in a position to end his verse fable, The Insubordinate Oxen, so brutally; the Polish nobleman, who made a name for himself as a poet of the Enlightenment, lived after all in the eighteenth century. The director Maciej Majewski adapted three of Krasicki’s poems and in 2007, with Krasicki Reloaded, shot a nine-minute long animation film. Here there can be no question of the gentle zephyr of poetry. Through these films of the Polish director blows the anarchic destructive pleasure of a comic book; and yet they satisfy all the basic requirements to qualify as poetic cinema.

Majewski filmed a poem that unites Krasicki’s verse with the language of the cinema. “Poems are often simply illustrated”, says Thomas Zandegiacomo Del Bel. “Other poetry filmmakers, on the other hand, deliberately work against the text or supplement it with their own images. As a rule, however, directors try to adopt the rhythm of the original to film and to catch the mood of the poem.” Zandegiacomo Del Bel has been the Project Director of the biannual Zebra Poetry Film Festival since 2006. In 2012 the festival will take place from October 18 to 21 in the Berlin movie theater Babylon. It will be organized by the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin in cooperation with Interfilm Berlin; it was launched in 2002, as an extension of the Literaturwerkstatt’s annual Poetry Festival.

Slugfest of sounds

For this year’s festival, the program committee under the direction of Zandegiacomo Del Bel has so far viewed 890 films from 63 countries; he expects a total of 900 works, mainly from film schools. The Zebra program has steadily expanded over the years; recently, in 2010, a director from Tel Aviv had the idea of sending three directors from his city to Berlin so as to make films of poems by three Berlin poets for the festival. The national focus in 2012 falls on Poland because Poland is the co-organizer of the European Football Championship. This time directors from Poland will work together with Berlin poets; Zandegiacomo Del Bel hopes to gain the film school in Lodz as a partner in the project. In addition, there will be a special program with Polish poetry films, including Krasicki Reloaded.

In 2012 the Zebra Festival has also announced a competition in which the poem [meine heimat] ([my homeland]) by Ulrike Almut Sandig will be transformed into a poetry film. The organizers also want to look back once again into the past. One program takes up the poetry films of the 1930s, with a retrospective of the life work of the Austrian sound poet Gerhard Rühm. Also shown will be the films of the Carinthian director Hubert Sielecki, who often adapts Rühm’s texts. In Dialog über Österreich (Dialogue on Austria) (2012), we see two men sitting in a tavern, before one of them a plate of sausage, on the plate of the other – nothing. Between the men develops a slugfest of sounds. Until one is silent. Rühm reads the poem on the sound track – a poem between nourishing sausage and devouring nothingness.

“Dialogue on Austria”

The poetry film is as old as film itself

The history of the poetry film harks back to the beginnings of film itself: “In 1893 Edison presented the first films and a few years later his company produced an adaptation of a poem. This was in 1905 and the poem was ’Twas Night before Christmas, based on the Christmas poem by Clement Clarke Moore”. The genre received a boost in the 1920s from impressionist films, and in the sixties the beatniks organized the first poetry film festivals. Since then, the “poetry film” has steadily expanded its scope. In the German-speaking world the Zebra Festival blazed the way and established the German word “Poesiefilm” (poetry film). The forms of poetry film are diverse, though, according to Zandegiacomo Del Bel, the number of experimental films is decreasing while the number of animation films increases. In the so-called “poetry clips”, a poem is read directly into the camera; the proximity to poetry slam is obvious. And there are more and more feature films in which the recitation of a poem is embedded in the story.

In the Net too there has been an increasing distribution of poetry films. In addition to those films that can be seen on Youtube, Vimeo has set up its own poetry film channel. Here directors are responsible for putting their own works on the Net. But those who want to see poetry films on the big screen should not miss the Zebra Poetry Film Festival. Why is it called Zebra, Mr. Zandegiacomo Del Bel? “First, because the word exists in many languages; and then because the zebra has black-and-white stripes – just as with us two arts, film and poetry, come together.” The mixed form produces the wildest effects. Who would have thought that a chainsaw could be poetic?