As many of you will know, the Leeds Young Person’s Film Festival has just begun we’re now well in the throes of the 13th Leeds Young Person’s Festival the 13th Leeds Young People’s Film Festival is now almost over (it took me a while to get round to writing this, okay?). It’s just one more of the many exciting events that our fair city bestows upon us each year. I’m a bit tardy in blogging this, but last Friday I went along to one of their first events, We Are Poets. It involved the screening of a documentary, hosted by the fabulous Benjamin Zephaniah, supporter of the documentary and poet extraordinaire, and followed by a Q&A session with some of the people covered in the documentary.
The film is about a group of teenagers who belong to Leeds Young Authors, a performance poetry group in Chapeltown. A group of these teenagers were chosen to go to Washington DC to compete in Brave New Voices, the world’s most prestigious slam poetry competition.
Benjamin Zephaniah gave some short opening remarks before the film which were beautiful, and which prepared us for the experience perfectly. I loved some of the things he said, and I desperately wish I knew shorthand so I could have got them down more accurately. Among other things he told us how great he thought it was not that these kids were getting familiar with the great poets of the past, but that they were learning to write their own poetry. And not just for the sake of it, not just for something to do on a Tuesday night, but because these teenagers have something deep and something important to say.
He said that despite today’s children being the Twitter generation, young people’s voices are not being heard. But no matter what technology is developed, no-one can stop us from returning to the first art form, the spoken word. This is so true and I hope it’s something that the young people ofLeedswill remember: that they do have important things to say, and no-one can ever stop them from saying them. This linked really nice with a scene in the documentary with another respected performance poet, Saul Williams. He reminded the young poets that although people will try to label their art as street poetry or slam poetry, what they are doing is poetry, pure and simple. They are performing their poems in front of people, just as the ancient poets did before the advent of literacy, and they shouldn’t feel that they are anything less than poets.
Zephaniah’s final words reminded us that the film itself was as much an art form as the poetry, and it was true that as we watched, it was obvious how much had gone into telling a beautiful, inspirational story. Not only did the film get across the incredible talent that each teenager has, it shows us each of their personalities, their political opinions, and most of all their journey as they go from writing poets with their mates in a conference room in Chapeltown to performing at Brave New Voices to standing on a stage in front of the White House.
I was pretty much blinking back tears the whole time I was watching this. Not only was the story of the Leeds Young Authors incredibly inspirational and moving, but there were gorgeous dashes of poignant humour, and a distinctly humbling reminder that our city is packed with wonderful people who give constantly of their time and talents to help our young people. As we watched the poets struggle with obstacles such as fund raising, nerves and censorship, there were always figures in the background urging them on; not telling them what to do, but telling them that whatever they chose to do, they would be supported.
As we flocked out of the cinema, there were collection buckets for donations to help this year’s team raise enough money to compete at Brave New Voices. I put everything I had in my purse in that bucket, and was thrilled to see £5, £10 and £20 notes being thrown in left right and centre. Leeds Young Authors, as far as I’m concerned, deserves every penny anyone throws at it. Arts and creativity may not matter to our government, but so many of us have seen the good things they can do within a community.