Rhymes and reasons

We Are Poets 'Director(s):Alex Ramseyer-Bache, Daniel Lucchesi at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011
We Are Poets 'Director(s):Alex Ramseyer-Bache, Daniel Lucchesi at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011

THE co-director of We Are Poets, Alex Ramseyer-Bache, is unabashed at confessing that he was so excited at having his film accepted for Sheffield Doc/Fest that he legged it down from his Woodseats home to be first in the queue as soon as the box office opened at the Showroom.

“We’ve got tickets number one and two for the festival,” says the first-time film-maker. “It’s really great that the premiere is here in Yorkshire.”

We Are Poets portrays how the concerns of a generation of multi-ethnic British teenagers are expressed through performance poetry as it follows members of Leeds Young Authors on a journey to Washington DC to represent the UK at Brave New Voices, the most prestigious poetry slam competition in America.

Ramseyer-Bache and his now London-based co-director Daniel Lucchesi were flatmates and final year students at the Northern Film School in Leeds who made a short film about the group for their degree show.

“I have done a lot of freelance work in depressed communities of Leeds, education work and campaign films,” explains Ramseyer-Bache who grew up in the city. “Through meeting local activists we heard about this group who met every Tuesday night at the Media Centre and performed poetry and we went down to see them.”

Leeds Young Authors, founded by performance poet and playwright Khadijah Ibrahiim, was set up to encourage social dialogue through written and spoken word among youngsters aged 13-19 at inner city schools in West Yorkshire.

“Someone said, ‘let’s show them what we do’ and we saw these confident and determined individuals delivering these powerful pieces. There and then Dan and I looked at each other and signed away four years of our lives.

“What they were doing was amazing and unique and you could see these young people getting so much out of it. a lot of young people go down the music and hip-hop route and it takes a lot for them to get there through poetry.”

Later they heard about their trip to America which obviously had great potential for a documentary, although presented financial difficulties.

A bank loan of £5,000 enabled them to go with Leeds Young Authors initially to Brave New Voices at San Jose the previous year which proved to be a recce for the film they eventually made. “We edited that into a 20-minute promo which we showed to potential funders. The Goodwin Development Trust in Hull gave some funding to get us back to Washington the following year.”

It was an emotional experience for the film-makers as well as the poets. “There were moments when we wanted to turn the camera off and just enjoy the moment,” says Ramseyer-Bache.

Actually there was a point when they had no option but to do that. The trip to Washington got off to a disastrous start when the airline managed to lose the Leeds party’s baggage.

“That meant no one had any change of clothes and we had no film equipment. For two days we could do nothing because we had no money to hire replacement equipment. In the end it turned up but only two days before the competition started. It helped in a way because it made us feel we were in it together.”

The journey to the finished film was by no means over because when they got back they had no money to edit it. “We then went for the Northern Film School’s epic award and took Saju (one of the poets) into the pitch with us and he did a poem and we won the award.”

Saju Ahmed, now training to be a social worker in Sheffield, and fellow poets Joseph Buckley, Maryam Allam, Rheima Ibrahiim, Kadish Morris and Azalia Anisko are expected at the premiere on Saturday, June 11, at the Showroom.