As the Poet Said , a documentary shown at the 2010 Toronto Palestine Film Festival focuses on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, a man highly regarded by the Palestinians as their “national poet”. He published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose in his career spanning over four decades until his death in 2008.

You won’t learn any of this in the  film about the poet himself because As the Poet Said isn’t so much a documentary but a poetic experience. The film is not at all about the life and times of Darwish but about his poetry and writings. There is no narration, history or interviews. What we have instead is poetry being read over   scenes of places that Mahmoud lived and worked. The film also travels around the world with other contemporaries, writers and lovers of his work, reading pieces of it in their own language, but mostly in Arabic (with English subtitles).

Director Nasri Hajjaj does and excellent job of filming the “unfilmable” aspect of poetry, a written medium that takes place in the playground of the mind. Nasri gives us a sense of the world around Mahmoud Darwish, where he wrote his poetry, and some of the imaginary places that his poetry can take you. There is one striking sequence involving a horse in the desert that really encapsulated the essence of his work. The film was mostly in Arabic with subtitles, so even though I did appreciate his work, I can only imagine the prose have much more impact when heard and understood in their original language.

I didn’t know much about Mahmoud Darwish before I saw this film and left the theatre not knowing much more after. What I did get was a good overview of his work and the impact it has on the Palestinian people. One of the remarkable experiences I had watching the film was when the audience (mainly of Palestinian background) broke out in spontaneous applause at two different times after a poem had been recited. So although I didn’t learn much about the man, I did get insight into his impact on the Palestinian people.

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