Few artists, in B.C. or anywhere, have exposed as much private pain as celebrated local spoken-word poet Shane Koyczan has. Through viral animated videos, magnetic live performances, TED Talks, even the libretto for the opera Stickboy, he’s shared some of his darkest secrets. Legions of followers know he grew up estranged from his parents, suffered unspeakable bullying, and struggled with severe depression due to all the abuse.
What’s so remarkable about Vancouver filmmaker Melanie Wood’s Shut Up and Say Something is that it reveals new shades of the icon’s personality. It also follows Koyczan on a new journey: the struggle to reunite with the father who abandoned him when he was a child.
“At some point the film had to decide: is it going to be a concert film or is it going to be a bigger life thing?” says the documentary veteran. “The biggest hurdle was getting the real personal story. He’s very eloquent but also very loath to talk about it himself.…To be candid, what surprised me was how socially awkward he can be. I, like everyone else, assumed he has his life together now.”
It helped that Koyczan’s story resonated so deeply with her own: “My dad married three times and I didn’t meet my mom till I was a teenager,” says Wood, who worked closely with Koyczan’s friend and collaborator Stuart Gillies on the project.
The mesmerizing concert footage and animated poetry sequences make it into the film. But it really centres around Koyczan’s decision to travel to the Yukon to meet with his estranged father. Koyczan himself states in the movie he never could have made the reconciliation without the film, and Wood admits he often needed pushing. The meeting culminates in a poem—one that still moves Wood to tears.
Along the way, Wood also captures all the oh-so-human contradictions of the artist who became a hero after his “We Are More” performance at the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremony. As the director puts it: “He is the good performer and he is the bon vivant; he’s the guy everyone loves and he’s the guy who thinks nobody loves him.”
Shut Up and Say Something screens at the Playhouse on October 4 and 8.More