Directed by Paul Devlin, Slamnation chronicles the competitors from the 1996 National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon. The film follows the four-person teams representing twenty-six cities as they battle and strategize through preliminary rounds. Ultimately, the final four teams vie for glory and a bronze trophy of books and boxing gloves before a sold-out crowd of thousands at the Portland State Theater.
The documentary weaves together interviews, readings, home videos, and excerpts from events surrounding the competition, including a clumsy softball game, a contentious planning meeting, and an explanation of the history of slam by Mark Smith, filmed in its birthplace, the Green Mill Lounge in Chicago. The performers present a wide range of styles, including stand-out pieces by the hilarious Taylor Mali, Saul Williams, with his tongue-twisting alliteration, and a nervous Mums the Schemer captured before his stint as "Poet" on the HBO prison drama Oz.
Despite some ferocious moments between the poets, including a heated spat between Mark Smith and Bob Holman, it is clear they all hold deep respect for one another. They tease and fight in a way only family can, such as Taylor Mali's lampooning of his comrades in his exacting piece "I could be a poet." One sentiment echoed in several interviews, and evident throughout the film, is that the rivalry between competitors ultimately inspires them to create stronger work and more powerful performances.
Directed by Paul Devlin (1998). Not Rated.