The premier of ‘We Are Poets’ in Leeds was truly a night to remember.

Held at Leeds Town Hall in celebration of the talents and skills of a group of young writers in the city, the film was hosted by internationally recognised poet Benjamin Zephaniah and featured commentary from Saul Williams – another world-famous poet.

We Are Poets is a hard-hitting documentary about a group of teenage writers from Leeds Young Authors who are chosen to represent the UK at Brave New Voices: the most prestigious poetry slam competition in the USA.

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Preview screening of We Are Poets in Leeds Town Hall on March 30th

From their inner city lives on the red bricked backstreets of Leeds to a stage in front of the White House in Washington DC, the poets explosively lay bare the concerns of their generation as they took on the world and prepared for a transformational journey of a lifetime.

The atmosphere at the film’s preview screening was electric. Over 700 hundred people packed into Leeds Town Hall on the night to bear witness to the awe-inspiring showcase that was about to unfold.

It started with a greeting from the film’s director Alex Ramseyer, followed by a few wise words from Benjamin Zephaniah who came bandaged up all the way from his hospital bed to show his support for the film.

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Benjamin Zephaniah speaking on stage

After the film showing, audience members were treated to the raw talent of Leeds Young Authors with a question and answer session and poetry performances by some of the stars of the show. It was then followed by an address from Khadijah Ibrahim founder of Leeds Young Authors and Simon Murray, communications director for the group.

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Azalia Anisko, one of the poets featured in the film, performing on stage.

Akashic Times caught up with Benjamin Zephaniah after the show to hear what he had to say about the film and why it took on a special importance for him.

“When I was young – I’m really old now, I remember being frustrated that adults didn’t want to hear what I had to say. They didn’t respect my opinion, they didn’t value my opinion. And I think in some respects that has not changed. I’m really passionate about young people getting up, speaking out and being heard. That is what the film really represents for me,” he said.

“It is interesting that you have all these very clever, educated people claiming to represent young people and not listening to them. They have these tokenistic youth parliaments and things like that and they are not really coming down and listening to them speak.

“So this is exactly the kind of film that people in power should listen to. This should be on real, prime time television. This is not Eastenders – this is the Northenders! This is about how people really live. To see a group of people in Leeds representing themselves, it really needs to be seen by people in power.”

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Benjamin Zephaniah at preview of We are Poets

Local filmmaker Alex Ramseyer had been working with the Leeds Young Authors on an off for the last five years. Keen to capture the voices of young people, he started off by filming shows and events hosted by the group in the run-up to the documentary which he co-directed with Daniel Lucchesi. Awestruck by the sheer confidence and power of their written words and performances, he set out to document the work and community involvement of the group in the hope that others will be inspired by their efforts.

“I still get goosebumps watching it. It’s weird, because I’ve seen it so many times but I still love it,” he said, “It’s about bringing it to Leeds and saying ‘look, let’s share this story with everyone and get them all down to one place and celebrate it. The whole thing has been positive.”

After the film was a social where the stars of the show, along with Benjamin Zephaniah, Alex Ramseyer and Khadijah Ibrahim had a chance to meet and mingle with some of the audience members who came to support the film. The feedback was immense. Barely two minutes went by without interruption during my interviews with Alex and Khadijah, from people coming up to tell them ‘what an amazing film’ or ‘you did great.’

“Everytime I watch that film with an audience I cry..”

In fact the film’s popularity has already sky-rocketed and gone global and will be shown in places as far away as New Zealand, Brazil, Guadalupe, Mexico and potentially in the US as well. It will also be shown at Bradford film festival.

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Some of the cast and crew of ‘We Are Poets’ with directors of Leeds Young Authors

Khadijah Ibrahim founder of Leeds Young Authors said that one of the biggest challenges they used to face as a group was in trying to explain exactly how much of a difference events like Brave New Voices makes to the lives of young writers and why it took on a special meaning for them.

“Everytime I watch that film with an audience I cry and I had lots of moments of tears and joy. It is the way that people respond to it and the fact that they can embrace this. We’ve spent many years before this documentary, trying to explain what we do with these young people and trying to explain what happens at Brave New Voices and we can’t express it.

“They have such a wonderful time there, they have grown threefold and made all these wonderful friendships that are going to last a lifetime and they come back and they can’t even explain it.

“The fact that Alex has worked to capture that experience and was able to put together a narrative which tells their story and in a very clear cut way means the audience can come away and feel empowered from it.

“We are pleased that finally people can come and see what we’ve been working on. It’s not an easy job but it’s about giving back to the community of Yorkshire and this is the best way we can do it.”

Paulette Morris, co-director of LYA added: “Young people can sometimes have the idea that poetry is naff and not cool. But I watch them go through this process and they begin to realise that words are powerful and if they can get the right set of words together and deliver it, they could be the next Obama because that’s what he has done.

“Obama is a poet who can go out there and galvanise a whole set of people and get them to think what he thinks. When they catch on to how powerful their words are, they realise that performing them is just as powerful. I just try and get them to have the confidence to deliver and vocalise their words.”

But like most organisations nowadays, funding has become a major issue for the group who are currently fundraising to support future projects and competitions for the next generation of young writers. If you would like more information on how to donate or you are interested in finding out more about the work they do please contact Khadijah Ibrahim on kibrahiim@yahoo.co.uk

The documentary is due to hit the UK cinema screens this coming June.

 

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