2015 / HD Video / 2 min 42 sec / Spoken Word
Step into the spoken world of TJ Dema, a poet wielding imagery that slices through walls and pierces the most hardened of hearts. In her world, reading poetry out loud is a duty, whereby syllables are served in doses that not only lure the audience to listen, but also dares them to dream.
Written and Performed by TJ Dema
Directed, Filmed, and Edited by Masahiro Sugano
Produced by Anida Yoeu Ali
Production Assistant: Chantha Kong
Filmed & Produced entirely in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!
Special Thanks to Sylt Foundation & Sauti Arts residency for making TJ’s trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia possible!
Copyright // Studio Revolt, LLC // All Rights Reserved ©2015
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About TJ Dema
Born in 1981 in Gaborone, Botswana, TJ Dema is a spoken word poet who runs Sauti Arts and Performance Management. She is an honorary fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (2012) and the former chairperson of the Writers Association of Botswana. TJ has performed her poetry in many countries, including France, Germany, India, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe. A selection of her poetry has been translated into Chinese. She has recently recorded 12 Botswana poets on a multilingual CD, Dreaming Is A Gift For Me. Her chapbook Mandible (2014) was published by Slapering Hol Press for the African Poetry Book Fund as part of the Seven New Generation African Poets.
Dreams are evil
I prefer nightmares
They show you what goes on in here
Reflects what goes on out there
They lead you down a path
Where white chocolate flows undammed
And mulberries fall unshaken from the trees
Nothing is less faithful
Or more untrue than a dream
And does every waking moment have to be so hard
I am tired of spending sleepless nights
Chasing hesitant tomorrows biding my time
Just to spend it mending broken things
That have no wish to be fixed
I will not spin and spin inside this skin
I will not mourn a future I never had
I refuse to bleed myself
For an almost reality rooted in the distant echoes
Of a once familiar voice
Chanting I know I can, I know I can
Because I know I can
Be the girl I am right now
Live the life I have right now
Choose to be the dream I am in right now
Maybe then it won’t be so hard
Just to breathe right now
TJ Dema ©2012
Follow her on twitter - @tjdema / FB TJ Dema# vimeo.com/129798759 Uploaded
Well, there is much to be said about this project. It's based on my wife Anida Yoeu Ali's performance poetry piece called "1700%". Well, I was looking for some music video project in the winter of 2010. I contacted a well-known Chicago based Philippino band and sought for an opportunity to collaborate. But for some reason productive meetings never really happened despite my effort. So I said, what the hell. Who else can I work with? Then my wife suggested that we work together for this video contest. And I'm like... okay. Maybe.
I helped document some of my wife's performance works before but we never really collaborated. I never liked the idea of collaboration. It always sounded like aversion of creative responsibility. And collaboration with spouse seemed like a very very bad idea. Nonetheless, we discussed and we found a good possibility. But I made it clear that I'd have the final veto on the aesthetic issues. Call me a dictator, but I'd rather be a villain than a nice guy with a confused and demoralized piece of work at the end.
But despite my fears, this project turned out to be a rather healthy collaboration project, with helps from Romina and people of the community. Mr. Matt Crowley, who did the entire score for my first feature film "Art of Love" (2010, artoflovemovie.com/) gracefully took on the impossible demand to score this video in like 2 day notice. We worked with another local musician who provided the second half of the score. I think the drastic change of music in the middle worked well, though the decision was consistently challenged by my partner. See how veto works. ;)
But that's all small anecdote, compared to the big picture this piece serves. Anida's installation work, that came along with the video work, got vandalized at a gallery in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Things got bigger from there. It was funny to see how most people already had a verdict on the case for the culprit. Before finding out who did it (the cops nor the school never made any effort to identify the idiot, while we easily found other students who thought they could identify the guy), institutions were writing it off as an act of innocent mischief. Really? How do you already know that? What was even funnier was that the reasons these people presented varied tremendously as to why this person should not be held liable for his hideous act. It seemed like lots of people liked that her work was vandalized, and they hoped that's where the story would end. You know how shocked I was to see all this happen? And I thought we were part of this community of artists who were keen to justice. Wrong. Fear does funny things.
This video has been watched by more than twenty thousand people world wide since being uploaded to the web. This particular link is new so it has much fewer count, but the main link is part of 1700% Project website (1700percentproject.wordpress.com/) by Anida Yoeu Ali. Anyhow, the vandalism did very little to deter attention from the real issue. And the video is going stronger than ever before.
And I know very well this strength came not from my dictatorial direction, but from my wife's belief in art as tools for revolution. So this collaboration taught me something. Though I still hate her approaches sometimes. I mean, that's why our newest work "Who's Got Us?" is still incomplete since the completion of principal photography almost a year ago. Should I listen or should I veto? Well, it's gotto be somewhere in-between. I guess.
Prumsodun Ok is the painted white angel. He is trained in traditional Cambodian dance. I'm planning on posting the whole choreography of the dance as a solo piece. (Masahiro, 07/04/2011)# vimeo.com/25934013 Uploaded
Last two months have been crazy. Since I posted "Samnang's Bear" video. Much has happened and things took us to a different path. My plan was to finish "Bopha's Body" shoot after coming back from Battambang, where "Samnang" was shot, then maybe try another short film, finish feature script, raise money and move onto the feature production in the fall. Well, it just got lots more complex than that. I don't know who to blame on this, or should I just accept the finger pointed at me, saying "You do this." I found myself in a spot and there was a calling. So I went with it. As I took the first steps, I quickly had to realize how big, deep, the whole thing was beginning to look, then I thought... gee this could be pretty crazy. Am I ready? Well, what does it mean to be ready anyway? So I followed my heart. I wanted to see where it would take us. It was a project not for my career or my vision. It was bigger than any of us.
Thus our first collaboration video, Why I Write, was born.
What am I talking about? Well, here is how it happened in a chronological order.
So I came back from Battambang. But before leaving for Battambang, I made one promise with a dude at the Java Cafe screening in late June. The dude really liked my films and told us enthusiastically how excited he was about Studio Revolt and what we were trying to do. His friend starred in one of the films shown that night, Veasna's Painting. The dude said he wanted to tell me his story and share with me a few pieces of his spoken word poetry. I was delighted by his compliments but I wasn't sure what to say. In any case, he wasn't all that important for me that night. I had other guests I wanted to impress and rub elbows with. I knew this guy was just shipped back to Cambodia from the states. So he must have done time. That means he's a felon, ex-convict. I could see tattoos all over his body, forearms, neck, I mean everywhere, he must have been a hardcore. And he wanted to tell me the story of his life. It seemed like he couldn't wait. I asked him to hold back till I'd find a good amount of time to sit down and listen to him. I promised him I'd give him a call once I come back from Battambang, not because I was interested in what he wanted to tell me. I just did not want to appear rude to the poor guy.
So I came back from Battambang, and I knew I had to contact him. I was a bit hesitant. I didn't know how much personal stuff he was going to unfold on me, and I wasn't ready to hear any of it. I met the guy only twice. It's nice to watch those documentaries about thugs and ex-cons on Discovery Channels or PBS, but to talk to a real dude in person... I was quite apprehensive. It was a turf I had never entered. My game plan was just to be nice, attentive and respectful, even if he was to ask for favors I might not be interested in. When it's a good time, I would pay for his coffee and say good night. He'd say thanks for the coffee and maybe we'd never see each other again. Or maybe we would. It didn't matter either way. So I walked to Java Cafe after my wife and I put our daughters to bed.
Once at Java, all I had to do was to just listen to him. I don't remember what time we started. Maybe 9 p.m. Maybe 8 p.m. He had the magic. He was an excellent storyteller. I was thinking he must have learned the art of story telling in prison. I was thinking they must have lots of time to tell stories to each other. The dude told me pretty much his entire life starting from his birth in a refugee camp. Then his falling out in middle school. Being sent to juvenile camp in Alabama. Running the street. Hanging out with the wrong crowd. Then the arrest, verdict, sentencing, 16 years at the age of 16. The whole saga of prison life and his moment of awakening. Finding art, words, poetry. Finding mentors. Learning to survive. Prison riots. Sleepless nights. It went on like a lovely movie about hardship and enlightenment. The insane scenes he portrayed were once very real to the man who was talking to me. I had to watch out for that tickled sense of privilege which made me feel I was granted a special access to a largely foreign and unknown landscape called U.S. prison system, and lives of those who were within.
Now I remember why I felt so odd about this meeting. As far as I was concerned, that's my wife's area. She's the activist. She's the community what-not. But he wanted to talk to me. I didn't know why. I felt honored but strange at the same time. In any case, as he was wrapping up the story of his life, I was overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude towards him for the trust he had in me and the courage to share his story with me with such sincerity. The meeting was simple as it could get. He just wanted to tell me the story of his life. That's it. Nobody had ever done that to me. And nobody probably ever will at the scale, intensity and beauty of the narrative as he did at this meeting.
This guy had something very special to offer. There was no doubt about that. But I didn't know exactly why he wanted me to hear his story. Then we walked out of the cafe, 'cause it was closing at 10 p.m. We walked across the Sihanouk Blvd to the park and sat on the stone bench. Well I did sit. He did not. He lit up his cigarette and we chatted more, then he wanted to perform a few spoken word pieces for me.
That made me apprehensive. I liked the guy for the story. I had not digested all of what he told me yet. I was still overwhelmed by the power of tales he bombarded with me shortly before. But now he wanted to share his spoken word poetry. I was interested, but I really did not want him to ruin it for me if it was not going to be as good as the stories he told me at the cafe.
Then he launched. I don't remember if he was wearing a tank-top or he was shirtless. I think he took off his shirt by then. I remember seeing a lot of tattoos in front of my eyes as he began to let his words flow out of his mouth.
The truth is. I don't really understand poems. It's mostly the language issue. English is my second language. I don't really hear lyrics in songs. Forget rappers. Poetry usually passes over my head as well. So what he was giving, I did not really get. Those rhymes confuse my immigrant ears. But I got what he was telling. It wasn't the word. This guy knew what it was all about. He was making it real. He captivated me despite my limitation on poetic appreciation. It was very clear to me from the very first line. It wasn't the poetry. It was him. He was showing and revealing himself, his emotions, through the vehicle of words called poetry. I had this incomprehensible chills in my spine throughout his performance. This is called transcendence. There are few people in the world who can move you beyond category or background. He was one of them. He was transcending his genre of spoken word poetry. His poetry did not call for comprehension. It only engaged and revealed, for which you do not need knowledge. That's where he was playing. And it was kicking my ass.
He performed another piece for me. I learned soon afterwards spoken word artists use the word "kick" to mean perform. So instead of perform or share a piece of poetry, you "kick" a piece. I'm not a very cool person so I would make you blush if I said something like, "Can you kick a piece?" So I am not using that term, but I think it's like the official term. Anyhow, the dude "kicked" another piece for me. And we said good-bye.
It's a short walk to home from Java, but it took a long time to decompress the events of the night. I talked to my wife and I insisted that she meet him and see him performance. My wife is an experienced spoken word artist. She was a bit suspicious. She had the tone of "been there done that" type reaction. I emphasized that he was good. He was really good. I told her I wanted to do his video. She told me to wait on it until she was convinced of his talent. I had to focus on my feature. We had no time to play around. I asked to do just one video before we would fully commit to the feature in September. She told me to wait on the idea until she was convinced of his talent.
The dude came over one night, probably like 2 weeks later. Our daughters were sleeping in the bedroom so he had to be quiet. On the straw mattress area, where our kids play during the day, the dude kicked a piece at quarter of his voice capacity. The very next day, she told me we ought to work with him for a video project. She said there might be more things to come if we were to start a project with him. I knew there was something like that developing. I never asked for it, but I knew it was developing.
There is much more to tell on these episodes. But it's been a little over three months since our meeting at Java. Now we have a website dedicated for the dude, his poetry, and the deportation issues. My wife designed and launched the website. And we finished another video with him and his crew, which concerns the Exiled American issues addressed at White House, and we finished shooting the second spoken word video called "Moments inBetween the Nights." And it is certain that we will be filming the dude's large body of works in the future to come.
It seemed like the very important milestone in my filmmaking career, the second feature film, has been brushed aside. It stressed me from time to time in the last 2 weeks, thinking of how much I got into this whole thing and it seemed like a never ending project.
But what made sense at the same time was how I could spot all the chain of events that lead us where we are now. From the launch of Studio Revolt to here, it is apparent there has been a dotted line that we were meant to connect. So as frustrated as I am to be away from the feature production for now, I feel fortunate to be able to say what I have said about the chain of events. I should not be using this word, because I'm not sure about where it takes us and don't want to be naive about it, but it was like destiny revealing itself. Like I said, it's already bigger than us. I'm just playing a part in this, and I feel really good about it. Never made films purely for beliefs. Now I can say I have begun to do exactly that.
And I present this video to you hoping you all could experience his poetry in the same way I did on that stone bench that night. I believe his life and belief represent something more important than the film itself or a genre of art. I believe what he is trying to do through his poetry can shed lights for those who feel neglected, abandoned and angry. He has the talent and the heart to reach those. His motto is "one love". I believe it. I believe he was given a mission to fulfill on this earth. I am happy to assist him on his journey.
All in all, I owe this whole journey and exciting detour of the last three crazy months to that dude who took the risk to come up to me and insist that I hear out his life story. I mean a life story. Who does that? The dude's name is Kosal Khiev. He is my friend.
** Please show your support to his art by visiting his website at SpokenKosal.com and signing up to the contact list.
(Masahiro, October 31, 2011)# vimeo.com/31372665 Uploaded
Allow me to share with you our new and important spoken word video HADEEL by Rafeef Ziadah. I saw her performance for the first time in London this summer. She was already a YouTube sensation with her "We Teach Life, Sir" video but I had not heard of her. My only focus was Kosal Khiev with whom I was traveling in UK for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. I stumbled upon her spoken word poetry and bursted into tears behind the camera. Ever since I wanted to share this piece with the world as I experienced it.
It would be a great honor if you could share it and repost it in as many places as you find fit. The state of Palestine is the worst public relations disaster I've ever seen. They are the only people I know whose innocent ones get killed regularly by a military might and we seem strongly discouraged from feeling any sympathy for them. Palestinian kids are the original "collateral damages". Hadeel is a poetry that reminds us of who they are.
Masahiro Sugano, Filmmaker / Studio Revolt
written and performed by Rafeef Ziadah
filmed, edited and animated by Masahiro Sugano
performance from Poetry Parnassus 2012, Southbank Centre, London
For prolog of this performance, please go to
You can buy Rafeef Ziadah's CD "Hadeel" at
a Studio Revolt project
copyright © 2012 Studio Revolt, LLC# vimeo.com/54133756 Uploaded
The Cinematic Art of Spoken Word
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