This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



Saul Williams

Ray Joshua (Saul Williams) writes about his endangered life in award-winning SLAM

SLAM (Marc Levin, 1998)
Dempsey Auditorium
127 West 127th St.
Thursday, December 5, suggested admission $10, 7:00
Series continues through December 8 at Maysles Cinema

Award-winning documentarian Marc Levin is being celebrated this week with a four-day “Masterclass” tribute at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem. The series begins December 5 with a fifteenth-anniversary screening of Levin’s second fiction feature, the genre-defining Slam. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes, the 1998 film stars Saul Williams as Ray Joshua, a young man arrested for selling weed in the appropriately named Dodge City in southeast D.C. Ray is faced with three options: plead not guilty and go to trial, which means long prison time if he loses; plead guilty and get locked up for eighteen months to two years; or cooperate with the police and walk free after naming names. Unable to make bail, Ray is incarcerated while trying to decide what he is going to do. While behind bars, he lets loose with some remarkable spoken-word rhymes that earns him respect and the attention of writing teacher Lauren Bell (Sonja Sohn). Soon Ray’s artistry might be the only thing that can save him as he continues to fight an unfair system in an unjust world.

Ray (Saul Williams) turns to Lauren Bell (Sonja Sohn) for help in seminal genre film

Real-life spoken-word poets Sonja Sohn and Saul Williams star in seminal genre film

Shot in a compelling cinéma vérité style by Mark Benjamin that adds a heavy dose of grim reality, Slam is a collaboration between Levin and Richard Stratton, an ex-con who started Prison Life magazine after spending eight years in jail for drug smuggling. In addition, Williams, Sohn, and Bonz Malone, who plays prison inmate Hopha, wrote their own dialogue/raps. The score, by DJ Spooky, is supplemented by a soundtrack that includes KRS-One, Pras, Big Pun, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Mobb Deep, Brand Nubian, and others. And yes, that is D.C. mayor Marion Barry Jr. as the judge preaching about the scourge of drugs. Slam, the first of an urban trilogy by Levin that continues with Whiteboyz and Brooklyn Babylon, is screening December 5 at 7:00 at the Dempsey Auditorium, preceded by a live performance by Darian Dauchan, Samantha Thornhill, and Jon Sands and followed by a Q&A with Levin, Stratton, Williams, Sohn, Malone, Bob Holman, and Liza Jessie Peterson. The Masterclass series runs through December 8 at the Maysles Cinema with such other Levin films as Whiteboyz, a double feature of Gang War: Bangin; in Little Rock and Back in the Hood: Gang War 2, and Mr. Untouchable, shown along with a preview of the work-in-progress Freeway: Crack in the System, about Rick Ross. (Fans of Williams can also catch him performing at the December 7 edition of the Brooklyn Museum’s free First Saturdays program.)

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