When I spoke with director Sharon Baker about her new film The Twin Poets: Why I Write playing at the 15th Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, it reminded me of Steve James' The Interrupters
(2011), a documentary that follows a group in Chicago that is trying to
end gun violence in the streets and particularly among the minority
youth there. The group called CeaseFire has similar groups in other
cities like Baltimore and New Orleans, but it is unknown if a group like
that exists in Wilmington, Delaware. Whether or not the group exists,
it doesn't change the fact that gun violence among youth happens in
Wilmington and results in the needless deaths of children. Twin
brothers, Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills want to change that. The twins'
tactics aren't as dangerous as CeaseFire's. Instead of jumping in front
of bullets, the twins use poetry.
The twins are spoken word artists who have performed all over, even on national television, HBO. Baker stresses that they could have followed that to great careers. Spoken word artists are basically rappers without music. Their potential to go that route and make hit records was there, but they chose to come back to their community and help the children there who desperately needed it. Baker followed these guys for over four years, basically hanging out with them on a regular basis, and she says that this movie is less a biography and more of a vehicle to show the selfless devotion that the twins have to making the world better, particularly their neighborhood in Wilmington and the young people who populate it.
The twins who are now in their 40s are artists and at the same time social workers. Chukwuocha works as the Associate Director of the Kingswood Community Center and Mills works as the Program Director at Project Stay Free. Both essentially work with children to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Simply put, Chukwuocha does what he can to keep children from getting in trouble with the law, while Mills does what he can, once children have already gotten in trouble with the law, to get them out of it by accompanying them to court proceedings and speaking on their behalf. All along the way, both keep reiterating the importance of education and cohesive families.
Baker starts the movie inside a cop car and she does a good job of establishing the problem and the stakes and the threats at hand. Her way of interviewing the twins is visually compelling where both are on screen but one is in silhouette against a blue background. The way she edits the poetry performances is energetic. Instead of just setting up multiple cameras at their Schwartz Center performance in Dover for example and merely cutting between the various angles, she captures the twins performing the same poem at different venues at different times and then cuts back-and-forth between those. It gives the audience a sense of the power and precision of the twins' ability to nail the emotion behind their poems each and every time. Yet, it also amplifies and not just echoes the message within each in a way that more grabs the soul.
The Twin Poets: Why I Write
Running Time: 1 hr. and 9 mins.
November 10, 2012 at 12:30PM.
Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.