Hollywood Reporter

Kirk Honeycutt

1998-01-16 15:26:37

The winner of the grand jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival is "Slam" a first feature by award-winning documentarian Marc Levin that played to highly emotional audience acclaim here.


The film received tremendous word-of-mouth during the festival for combining a rivoting drama with a look at the spoken word movement - an underground poetry movement whose spoken style is similar to rap.  It was acquired by Trimark Pictures last week.


Brace yourself for a slam-dunk of a movie, in an in-your-face cinema verite-style that makes Godard's "Breathless" seem like a cartoon. The story behind the story is as interesting as the cinematic story itself and further evidence of the incestuous relationship between art and life.  Bonz Malone, who plays a prison gang leader in "Slam," has served time in prison but is now a regular columnist for several national magazines.


The stars, Saul Williams and Sonja Shon, were discovered at a "Slam" - where urban poets perform - and created much of the poetry in the movie.  Many of the extras are actual prisoners in District of Columbia jails.  Even in D.C. Mayor Marion Barry - in a moment that is only comic because of his own real-life conviction on drug charges - plays a judge who, at the arraignment for Ray Joshua, lectures about the evils of drugs.  With its documentary style and topicality, "Slam" hit uncomfortably close to home.


During its expedition across the urban jungle, "Slam" wrestles with D.C.'s demons, from overcrowded jails to the demise of the black male.  From these struggles, art emerges via poetic performance as an amoral compass by which one can escape the social ills that stalk society.


Performing at a Slam saves teh "reel" fictional Ray Joshua from despair in the face of his upcoming trial and rewards the "real" actor Saul Williams as one of the country's premiere performance artists.


One of the film's producers, Richard Stratton, as well as Bonz Malone, found art to be salvation from a life of crime.  "Slam" could very well become the poster child for Sundance inasmuch as independent filmmaking could find no higher ground than a film with an innovative style and social conscience that delivers the message: art 

redeems life.





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