To Be HeardNYT Critics' PickThis movie has been designated a Critics' Pick by the film reviewers of The New York Times.
For Three Teenagers, Easing Life’s Struggles Through Poetry
By PAUL BRUNICK
Published: October 11, 2011
On paper, “To Be Heard” may sound like the kind of production that’s better at “raising awareness” than at holding anyone’s interest. In a straightforward vérité style, it tracks the intertwining trajectories of three underprivileged New York City teenagers whose lives are transformed by their participation in a pedagogically progressive slam-poetry program at University Heights High School in the Bronx. There are inspirational triumphs and painful setbacks, and, yes, the students read their poems in sincerely unguarded performances.
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But check your cynicism at the ticket booth. “To Be Heard” is one of the best documentaries of the year.
The film offers more substantive insights into pressing issues of public education and urban poverty than many political commentators muster in a career. Situations are presented in all of their messy detail. While the psychological toll of systemic racism and pervasive financial hardship is dramatized in powerfully human terms, the film refuses to elide less readily sympathetic problems, like drug use, single-parent households and domestic abuse. “To Be Heard” contains and invites passionate debate. As one teacher remarks about a troubled student, “There is no facile solution.”
Ultimately, though, the intimacy of the portraiture is so raw that it transcends sociology. These students — Anthony Pittman, Pearl Quick and Karina Sanchez — are three of the most authentic and complex young adults you’ll find in any film this year. And each is a genuinely great writer: technically accomplished and emotionally overwhelming. They aren’t just the subjects of “To Be Heard.” They’re its stars.
TO BE HEARD
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Roland Legiardi-Laura, Edwin Martinez, Deborah Shaffer and Amy Sultan; director of photography, Mr. Martinez; edited by Mr. Martinez; music by Wendy Blackstone; produced by Mr. Legiardi-Laura, Mr. Martinez, Ms. Shaffer, Ms. Sultan and Jill and Jim Angelo; released by Dialogue Pictures. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is not rated.