The Opened Field: a National Poetry Competition 2017 film poem by Helmie Stil

The Poetry Society is delighted to share The Opened Field, a new short film by Helmie Stil, based on Dom Bury’s 2017 National Poetry Competition winning poem of the same name. Stil has previously created the award-winning National Poetry Competition film poem The Desktop Metaphor – and The Opened Field has already picked up a handful of short film awards ahead of its premiere on National Poetry Day.

The Poetry Society: Dom Bury’s winning poem is a dark, surreal and at times gruesomely violent folk tale. What was the process like of adapting it to film? Did the imagery come to you very quickly?

Helmie Stil: I read the poem at least 20 times and thought about it for several days before I fully absorbed the main feeling and images in my head. But then I always get a bit over enthusiastic and so many ideas fill my head that I have to write them all down. Most of the time my first ideas are the ones that keep popping back into my thoughts, and those ideas become central to my film. This poem and film is for me about finding your identity, rituals and how adults can suppress children’s feelings/creativity and thoughts. It’s about keeping your purity and connecting to nature, but learning all this in a harsh dark way. After I had the idea for my film, the next step was to find 6 boys who were comfortable with their bodies and weren’t afraid to move with each other – so I thought about dancers. Then I created a storyboard, found a location and talked with the cameraman about my ideas. It took weeks before we were able to shoot the film. The cast and crew did an amazing job. The boys do have a strength within them, and they just went for it.

The Poetry Society: Who are some of your favourite film directors?

Helmie Stil: Julio Medem. Agnas Varda. Christopher Nolan.

The Poetry Society: The Opened Field, unusually for a National Poetry Competition winner, adheres to a very strict form. Did the form of the poem influence the direction of the film?

Helmie Stil: Yes definitely. Dom Bury put so many layers into his poem. I think it’s absolutely brilliant, and because the poem is a sestina and has a mathematic structure, I wanted to include that in the film. That’s why the boys each have their own number. They literally mark each other with a number.

I also chose to make my own “stanzas” in the film. Where Dom ends one stanza and starts a new one with the same word, I start a new “film stanza” setting with a different number of boys. It’s a count down, so you see fewer boys in each scene.

The Poetry Society: When translating a poem into a film, what is gained – and what is lost?

Helmie Stil: It adds a new imaginative process, a different way of experiencing the poem. It can attract a wider, varied audience and it literally puts a poem into the world. As a poet you lose a bit the control over your poem. You have to let go and totally trust a filmmaker to make it into a film. As a poet you first give birth to a poem, and by allowing the poem to be made into a film, you have to bring it to school and let it form its own identity.

The Poetry Society: Tell us a little about the choreography. Was this a collaborative effort between yourself and the dancers? How did the choreography weave into the text?

Helmie Stil: We didn’t rehearse at all. I wanted the dancers to bring their own visions and ideas, so during the shoot I told them about some moves I had in mind and they then took it to a different level. The dancers were so confident and connected with each other that it just went perfectly. One of my strongest instincts was to keep the film as pure as possible and by letting the dancers be involved in the process I hope you, the viewers, feel that pureness throughout the film. Because you have repetition of words in the poem, it almost feels like a dance between the words; a dance between the same words with different meanings and interpretations, and when you see the dancers move, those movements can be interpreted in different ways. The viewer can have their own thoughts about what it means, and of course, that is the same with the poem. We all have our own interpretations.

The Poetry Society: If you had a limitless budget to adapt any classic poem into a film, what would you choose?

Helmie Stil: When I read a poem, it triggers my imagination.  It’s like opening up a creative piece in my brain and I just let everything flow. I’m a filmmaker and I love to read. I prefer contemporary modern poetry and I wouldn’t be able to choose one poem.  If I had a limitless budget I’d make as many poems into films as I possibly could. Every poem has a different feeling to it and I think it would be great to have more film poems in the world, creating a new and different way for people to experience poetry.

You can find out more about Helmie and her work at helmiestil.nl and on Twitter at @poetrycinema