Louder Than a Bomb

Louder Than a Bomb

Adam Gottlieb as seen in LOUDER THAN A BOMB, a film by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel. Picture courtesy Siskel/Jacobs Productions. All rights reserved.

Louder Than a Bomb (2009/2010)

Opened: 07/30/2010 Limited

IFC Center07/30/2010 - 08/05/20107 days
Arclight/Holly...08/06/2010 - 08/12/20107 days
IFC Center05/18/2011 - 05/26/20119 days

Trailer: Click for trailers

Websites: Home, Facebook

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated


Louder Than a Bomb is a film about passion, competition, teamwork, and trust. It's about the joy of being young, and the pain of growing up. It's about speaking out, making noise, and finding your voice.

It also just happens to be about poetry.

Every year, more than six hundred teenagers from over sixty Chicago area schools gather for the world's largest youth poetry slam, a competition known as "Louder Than a Bomb". Founded in 2001, Louder Than a Bomb is the only event of its kind in the country--a youth poetry slam built from the beginning around teams. Rather than emphasize individual poets and performances, the structure of Louder Than a Bomb demands that kids work collaboratively with their peers, presenting, critiquing, and rewriting their pieces. To succeed, teams have to create an environment of mutual trust and support. For many kids, being a part of such an environment--in an academic context--is life-changing.

Louder Than a Bomb chronicles the stereotype-confounding stories of four teams as they prepare for and compete in the 2008 event. By turns hopeful and heartbreaking, the film captures the tempestuous lives of these unforgettable kids, exploring the ways writing shapes their world, and vice versa. This is not "high school poetry" as we often think of it. This is language as a joyful release, irrepressibly talented teenagers obsessed with making words dance. How and why they do it--and the community they create along the way--is the story at the heart of this inspiring film.

Louder Than a Bomb premiered at the 2010 Cleveland International Film Festival, where it won both the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for best film and the Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Film Competition. Since then, the film has won audience awards at the Palm Springs, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Woods Hole film festivals, as well as jury prizes at the Austin, Chicago, Woods Hole, and Virginia film fests, and been screened for more than 3000 high school students. Louder Than a Bomb has been selected for the 2011 American Documentary Showcase, which was created by the U.S. State Department to "cultivate greater understanding among people around the world." The film will have its television premiere later this year as part of the Oprah Winfrey Network's "OWN Documentary Club."

Meet the Teens


For Nate, poetry is identity. The son of two recovering drug addicts on Chicago's far South Side, Nate was identified as gifted at an early age, and became an academic prodigy in a neighborhood where incarceration is more the norm. In ninth grade, he reached a crossroads, forced to choose between his two loves--basketball and poetry. He chose poetry, and has never looked back. Now a senior, Nate has to take an inexperienced Whitney Young Magnet High School (most famous alum: Michelle Obama) team under his wing, and carry it on his shoulders. An accomplished rapper as well as a poet, Nate also wrote and performed five of the songs on the film's soundtrack.


For Nova, poetry is therapy. Half-Indian, half-African-American, her cool exterior and thousand-watt smile conceal a tumultuous upbringing. Estranged from her father, she has little time for teenage things--she's an honors student at Oak Park/River Forest High School (most famous alum: Ernest Hemingway), works bagging groceries on weekends, and helps her mom take care of her 12-year-old brother, Cody, who suffers from a combination of Fragile X Syndrome, autism, diabetes, and seizure disorder. A three-year "starter" for slam powerhouse Oak Park/River Forest High School, Nova views the team as a respite from the burdens of everyday life, and poetry as a vehicle for expressing the anger and vulnerability she's otherwise forced to suppress.


For Adam, poetry is community. His passion for writing--and evident talent--make him one of the most popular performers at LTAB, and with his ponytail and beret, he definitely looks the part of a poet. Yet he's anything but a tortured artist. Instead, he's a disarmingly sweet kid, with a stable, loving family to match. A senior at Northside College Prep, one of the best public high schools in the country, Adam is the star of an already strong squad, the most gifted writer on a team of gifted poets. But while he and his teammates come from a world very different from that of many of their counterparts, their combination of skill, self-awareness, and enthusiasm puts them at the center of the LTAB community.

The Steinmenauts

For the team from Steinmetz Academic Centre--Lamar, Kevin, Jesus, Big C, and She'Kira--poetry is family. A poor-performing, working class school on Chicago's far West Side (most famous alum: Hugh Hefner), Steinmetz typically has little to boast about. Yet against all odds, their slam team, in its first year, won the 2007 competition. Entering this year, they're determined to repeat, and--more importantly-- to prove that their victory was no fluke. But will the unfamiliar pressure of high expectations, and the personal conflicts that come with success, derail their dreams?

Filmmakers' Statement

As is the case with so many documentary subjects, we stumbled on Louder Than a Bomb completely by accident. One weekend, in March of 2005, Greg happened to drive by the Metro, a legendary Chicago music venue, and saw a line of kids that stretched down the block. What made the scene unusual wasn't just the crowd--it was what they were waiting for: the marquee read, "Louder Than a Bomb Youth Poetry Slam Finals." Teenagers, hundreds of them, of every shape, size, and color, lined up on a Saturday night to see poetry? In Chicago!? Whatever this thing is, it must be something interesting.

The more we saw, the more convinced we became that, in fact, it was. There was the LTAB community--a remarkable combination of democracy and meritocracy, where everyone's voice is respected, but the kids all know who can really bring it. There were the performances themselves--bold, brave, and often searingly memorable. And there were the coaches, teachers, and parents, whose tireless support would become a quietly inspiring thread throughout the production process.

But most of all, we were drawn to the kids. We chose to follow four of the forty-six teams that participated in Louder Than a Bomb during the 2007-08 school year. The ones we picked represented a racially, economically, and geographically diverse population of students. Each of them also had at least one star poet, a main character we could use as a window on the rest of the team. There was Nate, an African-American prodigy from the city's far South Side, whose parents are both recovering drug addicts; Nova, from suburban Oak Park, who serves as a second parent for her special needs younger brother; Adam, the disarmingly likable neo-hippie, whose generous soul and prodigious talent would make him the unlikely spirit of the competition; and Lamar, the hard-edged exfootball player from the West Side, whose journey over the course of the year would teach him a surprising and powerful lesson.

The kids whose lives we chose to chronicle are bright, talented, passionate, and occasionally frustrating--in short, typical teenagers. Yet at the same time, they all have complicated stories to tell, and they've dedicated themselves to telling those stories as powerfully, precisely, and beautifully as possible. In the end, while the topics they tackle are deeply personal, what they put into their poems--and what they get out of them--is universal: the defining work of finding one's voice. We feel strongly that when audiences finally do hear what "our kids" have to say (and how they say it), they will emerge, like us, changed.

--Greg Jacobs & Jon Siskel, co-Directors/co-Producers


Siskel/Jacobs Productions

Siskel/Jacobs Productions is a Chicago-based documentary production company founded in 2005 by Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs.

Prior to Louder Than a Bomb, SJP produced the Emmy-winning History Channel program 102 Minutes That Changed America, which reconstructs--in real time--the events of 9/11 in New York City, using only sound and video from that morning. More than five million viewers tuned in to the premiere, making it the second most-watched telecast in the network's history, and the program has now been seen by over twenty million viewers worldwide. One of the most acclaimed documentaries of recent years, 102 Minutes won three Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Nonfiction Special, as well as the Most Innovative Program Award at the 2009 History Makers International Summit, a CINE Masters Series Award, a Silver Telly, and a FOCAL International Award. The show was also named the Best Nonfiction TV Episode of 2008 by iTunes. Most importantly, 102 Minutes has become standard viewing in high school and college classrooms across the country, a way for teachers to introduce their students to the emotional and historical impact of 9/11.

In March 2009, Siskel/Jacobs Productions was named to Realscreen Magazine's "Global 100"--its annual list of the world's most influential factual production companies. The company had two archive-based shows premiere on the National Geographic Channel this summer--Witness: Katrina and Witness: D.C. 9/11. In 2006, SJP produced Head On, a two-hour special for Discovery about the obsessive subculture of "team demolition derby" in Joliet, Illinois.

Greg Jacobs (Director/Producer)

The Siskel/Jacobs Productions co-founder served as VP/Chief Creative Officer at Towers Productions, where he oversaw the content of more than two hundred documentaries on five different networks, including awardwinning shows and series for A&E, History, Discovery, The Weather Channel, and CNN. A graduate of Yale University, Greg has a master's degree in history from Ohio State, and is the author of Getting Around Brown: Desegregation, Development, and the Columbus Public Schools.

Jon Siskel (Director/Producer)

The Siskel/Jacobs Productions co-founder was executive producer and co-creator of the series "Fake Out", which ran for two seasons on Court TV. He has also produced shows for the A&E series American Justice, Investigative Reports, and Biography, and his work has been shown on The Travel Channel, Discovery, and History. Jon serves on the board of directors of Free Spirit Media, a Chicago-based youth media organization, as well as the Gene Siskel Film Center. He is the nephew of the late film critic Gene Siskel.

Stephan Mazurek (Director of Photography)

Stephan Mazurek served as Director of Photography on the SJP production Head On. As a cameraman, he has worked on shows ranging from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Ice Road Truckers, for broadcasters that include ABC, NBC, PBS, TLC, A&E, VH1, and History. An accomplished playwright and director, Stephan recently directed Goldbrick, a theatrical adaptation of the music of Jon Langford (The Mekons, The Waco Brothers) for the Walkabout Theater Company in Chicago. He has also done lighting design and video projections for Chicago's worldfamous Steppenwolf Theater.

John Farbrother (Editor)

John Farbrother served as editor on SJP's Discovery Channel special Head On. Among his other credits are numerous documentaries, including the premiere episode of the History Channel's Gangland series, and short films, including The 5:22, which won the Prix Panavision Grand Prize for Best American Short Film at the 2007 Avignon Film Festival. John's feature film editing experience includes Chicago Boricua, which premiered at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival and was released on home video by Screen Media/Universal. John has a BFA in painting and drawing from James Madison University in Virginia. In 2001, he received his MFA in film and video from Columbia College Chicago. Louder Than a Bomb is John's first feature documentary.

Copy courtesy Siskel/Jacobs Productions. All rights reserved.