On balance, the message stays positive: Two of To Be Heard’s four credited directors (Roland Legiardi-Laura and Amy Sultan) co-founded the South Bronx after-school program the documentary revolves around, and the film shows them offering above-and-beyond support to their students. After the brief prologue, which cuts between a spoken-word performance and views from the elevated 4 tracks, Karina, Anthony, and Pearl—who become fast friends during their “Power Writing” poetry extracurricular—assume center stage. However uplifting, To Be Heard, shot over the course of several years, takes a surprisingly unflinching look at the home lives of the three high schoolers. Karina gets permission to wear a hat to class one day to cover up a large bruise from a fight with her mother; constant source of concern Anthony gets expelled and is later stabbed by a man on the roof of his building; Pearl struggles with her self-image and, at one point, worries about her mother making rent. In workshop readings and more polished performances delivered to the camera, they articulate these frustrations, as well as their complex relationships with the neighborhood: “Even though my life is the streets, I’d give my life to get off of them,” goes a typically acrobatic line of Anthony’s. The three slowly drift apart amid various (often devastating) personal setbacks, but To Be Heard also movingly charts their still-parallel long-haul growth as writers.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 12, 2011