Filmographyfilms and videos by Kurt Heintz

Jun 1995
[ photos from Passage ]
  • Quraysh Ali Lansana: performance, poet
  • Dennis Nathaniel Williams Jr: music, backing vocals
  • Heintz: camera, direction, editing, effects design
  • Tony Goodwin: "the youth"
  • Tyehimba Jess, Reggie Gibson, Karl T. Wright: "the youngbloods"
  • Sophia Allen, Tarvares Brand, Justin Deal, Eric Holloway, DeAnna Horton, Shelly Leatherman, Anton Montgomery, Irwin Poelinitz, Sheneka Sanders, Kenya Weddington, Javonta Whitaker: "students"
  • Taurus Bartlett, Carl C. Chapman, Leo Covington, Paris Harris, Amal Hill, Eric Truss: "players"
  • Soma at Audio/Visual: audio engineering
  • Thanks to: Mrs. Symanski, Mrs. Mitchell, and staff of George T. Manierre Elementary School
  • Special thanks to: Emily Hooper and Glenda Baker
  • 3 min 45 sec; stereo

Director's comments:
The production of this video was more than scholastically interesting because of the partnership involved. Chicago's endemic racism is very hard to bypass, even by those people who want most to get past it, outlive it, or vanquish it altogther. By every measure of identity politic in Chicago, Quraysh and I had no business even talking with each other; he's a straight, black muslim and I'm a gay, white atheist. Most people from our respective "tribes" within the city would rather keep us apart to avoid the possibility of trouble. But we shared some great things: a deep respect for each other, friendship, a feeling that our personal constitutions mattered and gave us a deep sense of duty with our art, and more than a few ideas about what a poetry video should be. Quraysh is also a rare person in how his talents are combined. He is the only other performing poet I know in all of Chicago who has worked professionally in television production, so we were able to digest a lot of talk about media up front to spend more time weighing the aesthetic considerations of the video.

We started with an idea whose genesis was at an outdoor café the summer before the first-ever Guild Complex Poetry Video Festival, and developed it from there. It took time. Quraysh knew he wanted a good sound track for this video, and as a founding member of the Funky Wordsmyths (a band which incorporated much performance poetry in its presentations) he built leads to the right people for his aural vision. By summer 1994, he had his soundtrack.

When we were able to sit down together with the sound, and consider what we wanted to show with it, I thought production would be fairly straighforward. We'd go to locations, we'd tape locations, we'd tape Quraysh, edit and lip sync the video, and we'd be done. This was not to be. In a rough version of the video, Quraysh wanted much less of himself on screen. I did an inventory of the screen time where he was performing and it amounted to about a minute and a half out of the entire video. Compared to a commercial music video, this was not much time at all. He wanted it cut down to 15 seconds. This seemed ridiculous at first, and I reacted because I felt the video was about Quraysh. But I took the suggstion and now I see the wisdom of that decision. By selflessly yeilding time to the other visual tracks in the poem, we were able to develop a contrapuntal narrative which only amplified the poem further.

Quraysh went to lengths to set up people and permissions to shoot in schools and on the streets west of Cabrini Green, one of Chicago's most difficult public housing projects. On what must have been the coldest day of January 1995, we assembled the "young bloods" on Goose Island and commenced shooting. I had to wear my battery pack under my coat -- in fact, under my armpit -- just to keep the camera from running down in mere minutes. Everyone was shivering in no time at all. What you see of the cold is real cold, no acting. It was a classic Chicago January night. Between takes, we'd try dashing back to the cars, but only one had a heater which worked.

The shots on the schoolgrounds were, I thought, the best parts of the video since they grounded the whole piece in a very realistic but accessible vision. Tony was a trooper throughout the shooting. Quraysh and I would improvise things for him to do, and he would dutifully do them. Tony was not an actor, but he took direction well. Sometimes just being Tony was enough for us; we found that as often as not he was an outsider in his own neighborhood, so by following him we were lead to basketball courts and other places where the tension between him fitting in and the other real "young bloods" on the court made for interesting verité. More than a few of the young men on the court thought we were hustling video from them to make another Hoop Dreams. There was a lot of cynicism around. I took stock of that.

The final edit came after a few more months. By spring, the snow had gone, but we needed indoor shots of Tony's school. Quraysh taught there, so we were approved for classroom shots after securing releases by the kids' parents. It was interesting to note how Tony had grown even in the few months since the January shoot. Had we waited later, his growth would have been obvious even in video. By late spring, we had an edited video.

- Kurt Heintz

to referring page | home