FIVE OF THE WORLDS OLDEST POEMS REIMAGINED FOR THE 21ST CENTURY| inVERSE

Launching on World Poetry DayinVERSE is a collection of five of the world’s oldest surviving poems re-imagined for the 21st century through the medium of film, by the award-winning film maker Jack Jewers. 

Jack is a filmmaker and writer. Passionate about telling stories in all media, his body of work crosses film, TV, and digital. His short films and web series have been shown in and out of competition at dozens of film and web festivals, including Cannes, New York, Washington D.C., Marseille, Dublin, and London’s FrightFest.

Each film takes an ancient poem as a prism through which to explore the world today. With historical poems ranging from the 1st Century Italy to 1500 BCE Mesopotamia, these five short films explore time and the human condition using the language of the ancients and the modern film making techniques of the 21st century. In celebration of humanity’s long relationship with poetry on World Poetry Day, these five films are a reminder that in these troubled modern times, poetry still has the ability to sooth and inspire.  

Far from being dry, remote echoes of a long-gone age, each poem chosen for the collection feels like it could have been written yesterday. And why shouldn’t they? People are people. Our dreams are nothing new. Our ancestors had the same hopes and fears that we do. And if we can understand this, perhaps it helps to put some of the problems of our modern world into perspective.

Each of the poems tell very different stories.

Love Song is an Egyptian love poem written in 1400 BCE that reveals a meditation on the meaning of relationship and gender in 2021.

 A timeless declaration of love and desire, this poem feels as fresh today as it did when it was written – a long, long time ago. The imagery is strikingly sensual; how the narrator describes the sound of their true love’s voice as being like the taste of sweet wine; or wishing they were her very her clothes, so that they could forever be close to her body. It’s passionate, erotic, and quite beautiful. 

None of the couples you see in the film had met before they came into the studio on the bright, spring day on which it was filmed – with one exception. The older couple are Alfred and Leila Hoffman, who were 92 and 83 at the time of filming, who have been together for over 60 years. The velvet-voiced narration is provided by Adam Roche, host of the Secret History of Hollywood podcast – required listening for all classic movie fans.

Long Wall is a poem about loss and suffering from the Han Dynasty in China and opens up a conversation about Europe’s refugee crisis.

“The first time I read this anonymous poem – dating from the Han Dynasty in China, sometime around 120BCE – I was blown away by its age. How can a poem this rich and vivid be so old? The idea for this whole series of films grew from there. The poem conveys such poignant feelings of separation and loss that it seemed to be perfectly suited to a tale of refugees, far from home.” – Jack Jewers

The refugee crisis is close to actress Sophia Eleni’s heart. Her mother fled the war in Cyprus in the mid-1970s, Most of the footage that ends the film was donated by the charity Refugee Rescue, who undertake tireless work saving desperate people at sea.

My Heart originates in ancient Mesopotamia with imagery like “My Heart Flutters Hastily” that is a delightful reminder that those giddy, dizzy feelings you can get when you really like somebody are nothing new.

Whether it’s in a world of dating apps and socially-distanced love, or from a time that feels unimaginably distant, people have been falling in love the same way forever.

inVERSE started life in a world before anyone had ever heard the word ‘Covid’ and lockdown was something to do with home security. So when the world ground to a half in the spring of 2020, Jack had to find alternative ways of finishing the project. Working with Los Angeles-based actress Joanne Chew, Jack devised a method of directing over Zoom while she recorded the takes on her phone, as selfies. The result is the lightest of the five films, and the sweetest.

The Look is a first century poem taken from Ovid’s Ars Amarosa and is reimagined as a celebration of inclusivity and tolerance.

The Romans knew how to have a good time. The Look is an abridged version of ‘Take Care With How You Look,’ a chapter from Ars Amarosa (“The Art of Love”), by the poet Ovid. Its themes of rejecting false nostalgia about the past, and embracing the richness of the modern age, sounded to me like a celebration of inclusivity and tolerance. Of course, Ovid was writing about a very different age to our own, but the message holds as true today as it always has been. And what more fabulous harbingers this message than Drag Queens United?

This is the only INSIGHT short that was put together from found footage, rather than filmed specially for the series. The lovely, colourful, joyous shots of Drag Queens United were taken at Amsterdam Pride in 2017.

The Dawn comes from the ancient Indian poet Kālidāsa’s Salutation to the Dawn and transforms into a rallying cry for a better tomorrow led by young street protestors.

Considered the greatest poet of ancient India, Kālidāsa is a founding figure of world literature. And yet, a lot of mystery surrounds Kālidāsa. Some scholars even question whether he was a real person, suggesting instead that his work a kind of collected greatest hits of the ancient Sanskrit world. And perhaps it’s appropriate that such an inspiring poem was written by a semi-mythical figure. It sounds to me like a rallying cry for a better tomorrow. And who better to get that across than young street protestors?

‘Bullet time’ is an effect that makes objects and people look like they are frozen in thin air. Creating true bullet time requires two things we did not have – time and money. So instead, Jack took a low-fi approach. Aside from a few simple computer-generated touches to enhance the overall effect, everything you see is done for real. The protestors are all professional dancers, who had the strength and balance necessary to be able to keep still for extended periods of time – often in difficult and uncomfortable poses.

The five poems that the have been reimagined for a 21st century audience are

  • The Flower Song  Anon. Egypt, c.1400 BCE. (Abridged).
  • He Waters His Horse By A Breach in the Long Wall Anon. China, c.120 BCE
  • My Heart Flutters Hastily Anon. Mesopotamia, c.1500 BCE
  • Take Care With How You Look from Ars Amarosa by Ovid. Italy, 1st Century CE.  (Abridged).
  • Salutation to the Dawn by Kālidāsa (attributed) – India, c.400 CE

You can read all five poems on the inverse website by clicking here

Follow inVERSE on twitter and Instagram @inversefilm

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