Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (2022, Michèle Stephenson & Joe Brewster)

Inspired by Montage of Heck, they wanted to make a musical but found a poet as their subject. Virginia Tech mass-shooting was cut from the film because test audiences thought it gave our complicated figure too much of a movie-triumph moment. Opens more spacey and abstract (the people in front of us, terrified of abstraction, fled before the movie even started) before settling into a portrait of the late-career artist, recently reconciled with her son and getting to know her granddaughter. Poetry spoken in context with her life story and media appearances worked great, much better than the written samples I read on my phone to prep for the movie. Katy thinks it didn’t get inside Nikki, that it’s all public image. The filmmakers signal that we’re not gonna get some late-life emotional breakdown by including TWO instances when Nikki refuses to answer Q&A queries about painful moments in her past. Michèle has previously made a couple of Haitian/Dominican docs, Joe has made a Giancarlo Esposito drama, and most recently they made “a magical realist, immersive, episodic virtual reality experience” about American racism.