Poetry film is a subgenre of film that fuses the use of spoken word poetry, visual images, and sound to create a stronger presentation and interpretation of the meaning being conveyed. This fusion of image and spoken word (both independent and interdependent) creates what William Wees called the "Poetry-film" genre. He suggested that "a number of avant-garde film and video makers have created a synthesis of poetry and film that generates associations, connotations and metaphors neither the verbal nor the visual text would produce on its own".
This genre of film was first explored in the 1920s by French Impressionists Germaine Dulac, Louis Delluc, Man Ray, Hans Richter, and others. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s this genre was further explored by the Beat Generation poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Herman Berlandt, and developed into a festival held annually at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California.
Poetry film is characterized by its nonlinear narrative style of editing, and stream of consciousness flow of images and spoken words, although linear narration and editing have been used to good effect in the creation of some poetry films (see Narrative). Generally, poetry film is created as a noncommercial production, but some attempts have been made to produce commercial films. Some poetry films have been used as instructional aids in literature classes to illustrate concepts such as allusion, simile, and metaphor.
In 1981, a group in Nashville, Tennessee, experimented with fusing spoken word, images, and sound into what was called "poetry videos". The concept was to create poetry videos, similar to music videos which were gaining popularity at the time, making poetry more acceptable as a commercial product. One video was produced with the assistance of the Tennessee State University communications department but was never commercially released.
One of the most famous poetry films ever produced was aired on the Smothers Brothers Show in 1968. The film was by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and was titled the "Assassination Raga". The film fused images of death, slow sitar music, and Ferlinghetti's spoken word poem about the assassination of the Kennedys.
More recently George Aguilar has developed a TV series of poetry films called Eyestruck.
Beginning in the 21st century the genre of poetry films making also reached other parts of the world including India. Several traditional television professionals experimented with the art. In 2007 a non-profit organisation, Sadho, created an exclusive platform for screening of poetry films in India. The Sadho Poetry Film Festival is a biennial international film festival in New Delhi. The first Sadho Poetry Film Festival was organised in the year 2007.
Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Sidharth Pratap Singh, Parijat Kaul, Anjali Monteiro & K.P Jayasankar (Centre for Media and Cultural Studies), Nandan Saxena & Kavita Bahl, are some of poetry film makers from India. The list of poet-poetry film makers also includes fourteen-year-old Sidharth Saxena and Shashwat Mudgal.
- Wees, William C., "Poetry-Films and Film Poems" in The Lux website, http://www.lux.org.uk, retrieved in 5 March 2005 also originally published in ‘Film Poems’ programme notes, April 1999