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Interview with Rattapallax Editor and Filmmaker, Ram Devineni

posted: 5.12.09 by archived

Ram Devineni is the founder and editor of Rattapallax magazine, a literary journal dedicated to publishing poetry from around the world. Devineni, also a filmmaker, co-founded the film school Academia Internacional de Cinema in São Paulo and recently co-produced Amir Naderi’s Vegas: Based on a True Story, which premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival and showed in competition in the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. For the 2009 PEN World Voices Literary Festival, Devineni curated a panel on literary short films and documentaries.

The Teaching Poetry blog asked Ram a few questions about his work with poetry and film.

Teaching Poetry: Tell us about your documentary on Ginsberg.

Ram Devineni: Ginsberg’s Karma is a thirty-minute documentary about the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. It follows his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work. Poet Bob Holman, director of the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, traces the two years Ginsberg spent in India by visiting the places where he stayed and talking with the people he met and influenced, as well as intimate interviews with Beat poets and friends. Bob and I make appearances in it, too.

TP: So Ginsberg’s Karma is a documentary about a poet. Yet you included more ephemeral pieces that animate actual poems for the panel at the PEN World Voices Literary Festival in New York last week. What are some ways that film captures the essence of poetry?

RD: I have always felt that a “poetry film” has to be (first) a great film. I am not sure if the artistic medium of cinema can do a better job of catching the essence of poetry than a dance piece or a play can, but film allows more options.

TP: Can film ever make a poem “better”? How, in your opinion?

RD: I have often seen excellent films based on mediocre poems, that’s why I place strong emphasis on the filmmaker. All films are based on interpretations. A filmmaker interprets a script and makes it into a moving picture, which is what the filmmaker does with a poem. The poem is the base.

Here is an example. It’s one filmmaker’s interpretation of William Blake’s “The Tyger.”

I am sure Blake never imagined his poem would be interpreted like that. But the film captures the essence of the poem and, as a film , it is outstanding.

TP: What are some of the most successful films inspired by or based on poems? What makes them work?

RD: It’s hard finding feature length films based solely on a poem, but a poem becomes the catalyst for the film. I always loved Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire. But, there are many excellent short films based on poems. Because of their length, short films and poems work perfectly together. The poem becomes the finished script for the filmmaker to use.

TP: What’s your dream poem to represent on film?

RD: Something by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda or Spanish poet Frederico Garcia-Lorca–they are my favorites. But since they are so well known, you have to be more careful in interpreting their work to film. I liked a series that the Sundance Channel did on Billy Collins, where they asked numerous filmmakers to turn his poems into short films. Here is one example; Collin’s poem “Forgetfulness,” interpreted by director Julian Grey.

Here are two more films that make for good discussion:

Metformin looks at the biology of love through collage and animation. Based on a poem by Helen Clare and directed by Kate Jessop. 2 minutes

Two short films by D. J. Kadagian who reworks classic poems using found video footage. Screening of “Good Morning America” by Carl Sandburg and “Standard Oil Co.” by Pablo Neruda. Special appearance by the D. J. Kadagian. 15 minutes.

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