Issa Movie: How Two Filmmakers Turned a Poem into a Short Film

The Brooklyn-based filmmakers talk about art, Kickstarter donations and the power of poetry.


By Taiia Smart Young

Pat Heywood and Jamil McGinnis met while working on the film side of advertising (making commercials and videos) and that connection turned them into friends and directors, despite having little experience. A chance email from Motionpoems to Pat’s boss at Smuggler brought the duo together for their first filmmaking experience.

Motionpoems (a non-profit org) was looking for creatives to turn poems into movies. Pat teamed up with Jamil and they started reading a bunch of poems for the project. They narrowed the list down from 50 to their top five. And as fate would have it, “Things I Carry into the World” (from the book Blue Hallelujahs) by Cynthia Manick was on both of their lists.

Here, the Brooklyn-based filmmakers, whose movie has been lauded for its cinematography and casting, talk about art, Kickstarter donations and the power of poetry.

‘Things I Carry Into the World’ is extremely layered and it’s easy to take away a new nugget after reading it multiple times. What made Cynthia’s piece stand out from the others?

Pat Heywood: I was struck by the length. It was a lot shorter than the poems that we’d been reading. It was very much the less is more thing — which is something that I live by. Every line packed like a Muhammad Ali punch of emotion. Every line evoked an image and a feeling for me. I read it and thought, ‘I can see how this speaks to the universal experience of creativity and youth and being a woman and a young creative.’ And it also spoke to the specificity of Cynthia’s experience. To me, the best art speaks to the specific and universal, usually by being more specific, it becomes more universal.

Jamil McGinnis: Every single line — like ‘rain shaped like spoons’ — was potent and it had so many layers beneath the surface. It’s hard to put into words what made me gravitate toward it; it’s like when you look at an image or piece of art, you might not be able to put your finger on what pulled you toward it. It’s beautiful to be able to look at an image or film and have an immediate connection to it.

Pat, how much did you know about poetry before turning this piece into a film?

Heywood: Not much. But when we dove in and started doing close readings of the text, I grew to love it as an art form. Now, if I have an hour on a Saturday, I’ll Google some poems and listen to spoken-word artists, because I have a much higher appreciation for what poetry can do. ‘Things I Carry into the World’ is the first project Jamil and I created together. And every film that we are making and our currently developing has some aspect of poetry, whether it is metaphorical or symbolic.

Jamil, what did you learn about the power of poetry?

McGinnis: It’s an interesting vehicle to express something metaphorically or literally and it’s a powerful tool — if utilized correctly. It can speak to people in a different way than just what regular dialogue or conversation can do. And it’s great to see how poetry has influenced what we’re doing moving forward.

How did you raise the $15,000 needed to produce the film?

Heywood: We raised every cent through Kickstarter. Jamil and I come from a professional filmmaking background and people [outside of the industry] are always surprised at how much things cost, like renting equipment, paying your crew a good wage and editing the film. Everything costs and it adds up, but 15 grand for a film like this is really inexpensive. We had 200 donations and we raised the money in 30 days. And with that money we were also able to produce a separate 16-minute film, which is the poetry anthology called Word Collective Poetry, starring the four poets who featured in ‘Things I Carry Into the World.’


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