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Poets Organize Alongside 100 Million Americans Living in Poverty in New Doc

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A candid shot of Michael “Quess?” Moore and Jason RA Foster on the set of the film.
A candid shot of Michael “Quess?” Moore and Jason RA Foster on the set of the film.  (Sienna Pinderhughes)

This National Poetry Month has shown we need to keep policy change at the forefront of our thinking. As a bit of a perfect union of art and politics, this Saturday at 2pm there will be a virtual free debut screening of the new film Many Fires This Time.

The film, referred to as a “poetic docudrama,” fuses spoken word, dance and filmed community conversations to bring the viewer into the research on the one hundred million Americans living in economic insecurity.

Poet Diana Cervera and filmmaker Jason R.A. Foster converse during the filming of Many Fires This Time.
Poet Diana Cervera and filmmaker Jason R.A. Foster converse during the filming of Many Fires This Time. (Sienna Pinderhughes)

“It’s not an exhaustive foray into the issues that impact people living below the poverty line,” says filmmaker Jason R.A. Foster. “It’s a part of the conversation.”

Foster, a New Orleans-based filmmaker, says the 70-minute film, “could’ve been all data and stats… But that’s not getting to the very core of what the stories are, and the humanity of these people.”

Instead of charts and graphs, there’s graphic language about police brutality in Chicago, immigration in Tijuana, and the intersection of economic and environmental issues in Kentucky. While dealing with topics like homophobia, workers’ rights and imperialism, the film manages to feature organizations doing work on the ground, like Oakland’s Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA).

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In-between excerpts taken from these heavy discussions are performances from Kendria “K-Love” HarrisMisty SkaggsDiana CerveraMarvin K. White, Jeremy Guyton and San Francisco’s Tongo Eisen-Martin.

Foster says the entire film was originally set to be an in-person event anchored by the Oakland-based national think tank and research nonprofit, PolicyLink (full transparency: they’re a former employer of mine). But due to COVID-19, the team switched gears about a year ago to make this production into a film.

Dancer Jeremy Guyton gets set to perform, as filmmaker Jason R.A. Foster and crew look on.
Dancer Jeremy Guyton gets set to perform, as filmmaker Jason R.A. Foster and crew look on. (Sienna Pinderhughes)

The entire documentary is hosted by Michael “Quess?” Moore, who goes by A Scribe Called Quess?; he also performs in the film.

Quess?, a poet who considers himself more of an organizer than a policy wonk, says he was interested to see the intersection of poetry and politics. “I’m always on that side of things where we till the soil and nourish the roots of what might manifest as policy change,” says Quess? But to see the intersection of organizing and poetry in real time, Quess? says, “It was like a fantasy. We got to make sure the two were in direct conversation the whole time.”

The depiction of that dialog couldn’t have come at a better time, as people across the nation are talking poetry and politics right now. This film is sure to add fuel to the fire.

The screening is part of a larger event, which includes moderated panels and a Twitch dance party.  It all starts at 2pm on Saturday, April 24, you can find more information here.

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