Park City 98: The Chances are Slam
by Tom Cunha
Photo Credit: Randall Michelson
Early buzz indicates that “Slam” has a good chance at taking home some honors at
this year’s fest. For anyone who is fortunate enough to have seen it, this
should hardly come as a shock. The film screened to thunderous ovation on Monday
afternoon and sent countless studio execs scrambling for their cell phones.
“Slam” centers around a young black man named Ray Joshua (played by Saul
Williams) who gets sent to prison for marijuana possession and, having spent all
his life in the gang infested housing projects of Washington D.C., holds very
little hope of ever reaching beyond his bleak surroundings. While in jail he
meets a prison workshop conductor named Lauren (played by Sonja Sohn) and
through their relationship discovers an inner strength through his own poetry.
While the film focuses on a poverty-stricken urban black society, it has the
impressive distinction of holding wide appeal as it inspires the will to break
barriers regardless of circumstance.
The film is remarkably directed by award winning documentary filmmaker Marc
Levin, whose past credits include “Gang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock,” which
aired on HBO and “The CIA: America’s Secret Warriors.” One atypical approach
that was taken on the film was a great deal of improvisation. According the
film’s star Williams, “We workshopped the script for nine months prior to
shooting. We did improv sessions and they videotaped some of them. But it was
intentional not to have anything written down because we wanted to be open
enough so it would be real.” This, combined with some amazing imagery and
camerawork leads to the film’s staggering realism.
One unforgettable scene where this played to remarkable effect takes place
between Williams’ character and female lead Sohn in a back alley. “That scene
is, in my opinion, one of the most magical moments in the film,” said Williams.
“That was the last scene we shot. Sonja and I really vibed during the whole
process of the film. It was the last day of the shoot and so the whole build up
of our interactions together climaxed while the cameras were were on and while
they were off.”
Sohn has an equally impressive monologue scene that takes place within the
prison. “It was total improvisation. For me, the way I worked in this film was
I came in with a certain amount of preparation. I knew my character and I knew
where we were alike. I knew where we were different. I knew the story very well.
I knew the arc of each scene. That’s what I came in with and after that I had to
trust and to just be open to whatever was gonna flow through me. I knew what
bells I had to ring. Just trust that it’s there because you’ve done the preparation
and then once you’re in the moment it just comes out. It was total improvisation
but it came about through a lot of preparation.”
At the core of the film is the harmonious poetry, which had audiences applauding
mid-picture. Each of the actors wrote their own peotry which lends to the genuine
feel of the film. In addition, director Levin’s imagery and documentary-like
camera work allow the audience to feel as though they are spying on real people.
“Slam”‘s worldwide distrib rights were picked up by Trimark for $2.5 million.