What usually happens with people when they reach their 50s? Some get ready to retire, some of them perhaps do gardening, travelling, but Ian French does something absolutely incredible: he crashes the world of competitive Slam Poetry, becomes a member of 2013 National Championship Toronto Slam Team and wins the 2014 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championship in Vancouver!
Kim Saltarski’s IF THE POET the an inspiring story of Ian French, aka “IF”, whose biggest transformation of his life begins in his 50s. This is why I was even more curious to talk to the filmmaker, Kim Saltarski over the phone about his quite profound documentary film.
MOVIEMOVESME: Telling a story about slam poetry is challenging. I wanted to know about how you went with the process of storytelling in order for it to be accepted by the viewer?
Kim Saltarski: I first discovered slam poetry two and a half years ago. The very first show I saw was very inspiring on two levels: one, how the story of the performer who stood out that night resonated within me and a wide spectrum of the audience and two, the amazing slam community; I really admired their bravery to share their personal truth on stage. So when I got the idea I felt that this is something amazing and nobody else had told the story with the community in context, so I started writing into it. By later that fall I was committed to shooting the film. One thing I wanted to make sure was that I tried to capture the energy of the entire slam community even though It’s based on a competition and this competition is a wonderful device to engage the audience. It’s more than the classic poetry reading, but to me it was my goal to find the balance. On one hand I was telling the story of this person and on the other the brotherhood that lay between the artists even at the world stage in Paris.
MOVIEMOVESME: How was it like approaching Ian to become the subject of the film?
Kim Saltarski: The amazing thing was despite how accomplished he is, through the journey of the film he was a very humble individual. So when I told him he was like, “Hey you know, what about this person or that person” like he felt he wasn’t interesting enough to justify it. When I dug into his personal story and realized what an incredible journey he had been through his troubled youth dealing with ADHD and struggling to find his place in the world. It just became undeniable. I told him you are the story. He later recognized it was not just a vehicle to promote his ego but a vehicle that had his personal truth and story been told and if we do a good job working together, it will show the greater amazing slam story in Canada and the world and thankfully through CBC financing it, now we are able to show in the national platform.
MOVIEMOVESME: How was it for you to find the right balance between happy moments and frustrated moments to sow in the film?
Kim Saltarski: It’s always a challenge when someone grants you access to their life and you become a fly on the wall. It requires a huge amount of trust and because his amazing coaching and crew gave me the trust fully, because I went through interviews, shooting 30 hours of coaching session and how the friendships between artists were evolving. It was a very interesting storyline for me. I thought I was on track there and also when I’d question him with the hard questions, he never flinched by giving honest truthful answers and encouraging me to even dig deeper. I think the balance in the end is very tricky and that’s where the craft of editing and storytelling comes in a documentary. But I hope the audience feel we did a good job finding that beautiful balance.
MOVIEMOVESME: On the whole what has been your experience of slam poetry and what is it you would like everyone to know about it?
Kim Saltarski: Being an artist myself, not just a filmmaker or a musician, but 30 years ago I had some poetry published and had done a few spoken word performances, so for me it was like rediscovering and old part of my artistic self. It was so deeply satisfying that it had evolved in such a beautiful way to slam poetry and made it competitive, give it a time limit. It’s performance based, there’s random judges, they make it fun but they also elevated the art form. So for me just to see what has happened on, how it is thriving in its popularity, I’m touched to the point of tears. For me as an artist the scene was amazing and to be able to witness the rehearsals was a real privilege.