On filmmaking and slam poetry

Paul Devlin, creator of 'Slam Nation,' to teach workshops in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

Filmmakers must persevere.

That's award-winning filmmaker Paul Devlin's advice to would-be artists. Devlin will visit Juneau next week for a screening of his documentary, "SlamNation," winner of the Grand Jury award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His 1995 television pilot, "Slammin,'" will also be shown, and Devlin will teach a introductory class on filmmaking.

"I think he'll be great," said Jennifer Brown, administrative assistant for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. Devlin's visit has been organized by Alexis Ross Miller as a feature in both JAHC's literary and film series.

"He'll be on-hand at his film to answer any questions there," Brown added. "(In case) people aren't going to be at the workshops."

Both "SlamNation" and "Slammin'" document slam poetry, which combines the written word and performance art in a unique production. The Juneau Poetry Freedom League hosted a slam earlier this summer.

Devlin, a New York City resident who began his filmmaking work making music videos for friends, became interested in slams in 1995.

"I work in television so my natural inclination to think was maybe we can make a TV show out of it," Devlin said. "I was so enamored of it. I used to bring friends to see it. ... It was a great thing to do for fun."

That idea resulted in the "Slammin'" pilot, which Devlin hoped might lead to an eventual series. The television stations he offered it to didn't bite, but "Slammin'" eventually aired on public television stations in Chicago and New York.

"I think it was a little bit ahead of its time," Devlin said. "It caught up to itself as slam became popular."

Devlin remained fascinated by slam poetry, and in 1996 he made "SlamNation," a documentary which followed New York City's novice team through the National Poetry Slam competition in Portland, Ore.

"We just gathered a whole bunch of footage and then I started interviewing people after the fact," Devlin said. "I realized along the way that I had a movie."

The film received rave reviews and numerous awards.

"I was doing a lot of publicity and people were asking me, 'What's next?'" Devlin said. "At the time I was like, 'A vacation.' A couple of years later, I've got a few things going."

He has continued his work as a video editor, putting together sports programs for all the major networks and picking up Emmy Awards for his work with NBC at the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games. He comes to Juneau fresh from coverage of the Tour de France bike race.

Devlin, speaking to the Empire from France, said he came to filmmaking through editing.

"Since I discovered that I could get paid for (it), I turned that into my day job," he said.

He's also balancing work on two new documentaries. One, "Power Trip," is about the struggle of Americans to continue providing electrical power to the former Soviet Union. The second, "Freestyle," spotlights rap artists who improvise their rhymes.

The JAHC hopes that local filmmakers encouraged by Devlin will enter upcoming film competitions in the state. Devlin says the best advice he can give is to remain determined.

"Just don't take no for an answer," Devlin said. "Take something that you're so passionate about that you won't take no for an answer, because that's the most important thing."

"SlamNation" will be screened at 7 p.m. July 31 at the Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium. "Slammin'" will show at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Nickelodeon Theatre in the Emporium Mall. The cost for each film is $10 at the door. Devlin's workshops will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 at the JAHC gallery. The cost for one session is $15, $25 for both. Call 586-ARTS to register.

A local video showing will also be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Nickelodeon Theatre.

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