There’s also the competition aspect of the film and the art form. Can poetry be judged by a score with winners and losers? This question is not lost on everyone involved. The team’s first real test is in Boston during the North East Regionals. Here they scored poorly, and their purpose is called into question. Do they want to write poems or win slams? Do they want to be vulnerable or pander to audiences for votes? Do they want to add choreography and hype up the crowds or tell their honest stories?
Where Don’t Be Nice shines is how it reveals the creative process of slam poetry. It all starts with a kernel of an idea as it sprouts into a first draft. The draft is then worked over and over again before it’s moved on to performance. What’s also amazing to me is seeing artists receive harsh criticism of their work without melting down (life lesson here). But art is ultimately personal, and current events influenced these poets as Don’t Be Nice was filmed in the summer of 2016 during the very public rise of Black Lives Matter and the death of Freddie Gray.
“He’s all over the room finding visually striking camera angles for a visually stunning film…”
As a documentary, Max Power’s film is intensely engaging. Also, the lives of his subjects are just as equally fascinating. What I love is that it’s more than just people sitting on a stool and reciting prose. Powers is not only a fly on the wall of the creative process by nailing a fixed camera on the wall. He’s all over the room finding visually striking camera angles for a visually stunning film. There’s nothing lazy in his camera work as every image in the film is interesting to look at.
The best part of Don’t Be Nice is spotlighting each subject and presenting a stylized video of their poems. Noel Quinones’ poem about living as an Afro-Latino is quite memorable as he shifts from character to character in a storm of personal and cultural conflict.
If you ever want to slip into your local poetry slam, Don’t Be Nice is the perfect primer for your experience. It will blow away your preconceptions and show you the art inside the artist.