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The Washington City Paper really ought to get a casting credit in Sujewa Ekanayake’s upcoming documentary, DC Poets. Last year, when the 28-year-old Silver Spring-based filmmaker was looking to put together a wide array of the city’s most well-versed contributors to the thriving local poetry scene, he placed an ad in the paper and let the poets come to him.
“People who identify themselves as poets in the D.C. area…run the gamut from unemployed punk rocker to people working for the government,” says Ekanayake, who’s still shooting. “This project will, hopefully, be an introduction for people who can’t go see all these poets perform live. I want to show the whole spectrum: There’s slam, writers’ groups, open-mike. I want a giant cross-section.” Ekanayake interviewed dozens of poets before deciding on whom to feature in his documentary.
So far, a number of the 15 poets he’s filmed have come from the Re:Verse poetry-reading group, which meets weekly at the Chi-Cha Lounge on U Street NW. Ekanayake says he has been especially drawn to how those writers have woven D.C.’s local issuessuch as the murder of lawyer Joyce Chiangas well as its multiculturalism into the fabric of their poems.
“I’ve always been interested in people expressing themselves,” he says. “Lives are difficult, and poets are able to really clearly and simply get across complex and powerful ideas. When you see someone performing a good poem and doing it well, it’s a wonderful experience.”
Ekanayake was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Germantown, Md., with his family at age 12. All of his work has a decidedly D.C.-area bent: His 1999 feature film, Wild Diner, was about Silver Spring’s famed Tastee Diner; next spring, he plans to film a romantic comedy he wrote, which will be set in the city. As he did with DC Poets, he plans to shoot it on digital video, which has dramatically increased his productivity. “It’s way easier than film. You don’t have to spend several months or years trying to find the financing,” says Ekanayake. “This is an ideal format for me, since I don’t really want to make movies through the Hollywood-type structure. I like doing things for not much money and with a lot of control.”
Indeed, he’s doing DC Poets for a few thousand dollars and editing it on his PC, whereas Wild Diner, which was done on 16 mm film, cost $40,000 and, he admits, was shot too quickly. (He plans to reshoot it on digital next year.)
Ekanayake is hoping to finish DC Poets by October and eventually submit it to film festivals. But he’s also got to keep up his day jobsdoing video production for public service announcements and working in a friend’s Silver Spring bookshopto make it happen.
Has all this time logged at poetry readings given him the itch to write some verse of his own? “No, not really,” he says. “I think I’ll just stick with filmmaking. That’s hard enough.” Aimee Agresti
For more information, visit www.wilddiner.com.