The Lives Behind Teen Poetry Slams in Louder Than a Bomb


Co-directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel stick close to template in this fast-moving, visually polished documentary that tracks four Chicago-area high school students and their slam-poetry teams as they make their way to the all-city competition of the film’s name. The doc begins six months before the event, and as the clock ticks, Louder hits all the familiar marks—drug-addicted and absentee parents, brutal inner-city neighborhoods, teen egos out of control before being humbled, adoring teachers who go above and beyond the call of poorly paid duty. A notable twist on the formula is the inclusion of Jewish poet-prodigy Adam Gottlieb, who is insightful and articulate about both his relative material privilege and the privilege of being connected to his blood relatives. But the movie floats to another realm entirely when the cameras go into the home of Nova Venerable, a smart, eloquent, gorgeous girl whose love for her special-needs younger brother and their hardworking single mom is expressed in terms that sidestep the formulaic verbal and physical bombast of so many of her peers (and fellow slam poets, regardless of age). With an eye for detail and a willingness to speak softly, she steals the movie.