Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Jennifer Crandall's 'Whitman, Alabama'

The poem is that shared background against which people
can do people-like things: talk, laugh, cry, observe, 
work, sing, wait, rest, and hopefully just be. . . .
~ Jennifer Crandall on Her Whitman, Alabama Project

Filmmaker Jennifer Crandall has traveled throughout the deep-South state of Alabama, asking those she's met to allow her to film a few moments of their lives . . . while they read some poetry. Instead of using traditional interviews as most documentary filmmakers do, Crandall came up with the idea to use a "quintessential American" poem — Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" — as the thread tying together all her cinematic portraits of Alabamians. Hers is an inspired and creative approach to upending stereotypes while discovering and revealing the diverse voices of people we don't often hear from and even less-often listen to. 

Compiled stanza by stanza to comprise Crandall's 52-part documentary Whitman, Alabama, Crandall describes her project as an experiment using documentary and poetry "to build something new", apart from all that divides us, by "re-envisioning" the stories of "[a]ll of us poets" who live "inside of a shared universe." What she has produced to date are rich and moving portraits of who we are, both individually and collectively.

Following are two excerpts from Whitman, Alabama. The first introduces us to Virginia Mae of Birmingham, who recites Verse 1 of "Song of Myself". The second, using Verse 51, presents Donnie, whom Crandall met outside Birmingham's "Bottega Cafe". Other filmed verses are available at the Whitman, Alabama Website. (You'll want to view them all.)

Whitman, Alabama on FaceBook

Jennifer Crandall on Vimeo

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