Arts & Culture
by Aspect County

Five of the world’s oldest poems reimagined for the 21st century

inVERSE 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 Surry-based award-winning filmmaker, Jack Jewers. 

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, 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. 

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

This is 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 the clothes that she wore, 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 a bright, spring day and immediately began filming – with one exception. The older couple are Alfred and Leila Hoffman, who were 92 and 83 at the time of filming, they’ve 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, which opens a conversation about Europe’s refugee crisis. Based on the poem He Waters His Horse By A Breach in the Long Wall Anon. China, c.120 BCE

Jewers claims that the first time he read this anonymous poem he 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.”

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

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My Heart is based on the poem My Heart Flutters Hastily Anon. Mesopotamia, c.1500 BCE. It originates from ancient Mesopotamia, and 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’, when 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 an abridged version of Take Care With How You Look,’ a chapter from Ars Amarosa (“The Art of Love”), by the poet Ovid. 

Says Jewers: Its themes of rejecting false nostalgia of 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 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 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 is based on the poem Salutation to the Dawn by Kalidasa (attributed) – India, c.400 CE, is considered the greatest poet of ancient India. 

Kalidasa is a founding figure of world literature. And yet, a lot of mystery surrounds Kalidasa. Some scholars question whether he was a real person, suggesting instead that his work is collection of 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?

Jewers continues: 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, we 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.” 


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Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer, passionate about telling stories in all media. He’s won several accolades for his film work, including an award from the Royal Television Society and a nomination for Best Short Film by BAFTA Wales. He has been invited to speak about his work at major film and TV industry events around the world. Jack lives near London with his wife, the author Christi Daugherty, a small menagerie of pets, and a friendly ghost. But that’s another story.

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Photo credits: Jasmine Aurora