Barrett Rudich was walking down the street by Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 10, 2011 when he saw a young woman sitting in a chair on the sidewalk, perched in front of a small typewriter.
Abi Mott, who grew up in Lancaster, was busking — a common enough practice in larger cities — but she wasn’t singing or playing an instrument on the street. She was writing poetry.
A sign taped to her table read: “Name a price, pick a subject, get a poem.”
“You’d pick a subject and name a price,” Rudich says. “And then you get a poem. I’d never seen anything like this before.”
Rudich requested a poem about ambiguity.
“A theme in my life,” he says with a chuckle.
But there was nothing ambiguous about the meeting.
“At the exact time she is writing the poem I was inspired to do a film about her,” Rudich says.
Both Rudich and Mott will be on hand for question-and-answer sessions after each screening.
Rudich has been making films for businesses and non-profits for some 20 years, but this is his first feature documentary.
“There was something about the directness of creating art,” he says. “The audience was right there, money was exchanged. The simplicity of it was so direct.”
It was not quite so simple to get hold of Mott. Rudich talked to her about the film the night they met and they exchanged email addresses, but Mott, who had no phone, was living a nomadic life and doing a lot of couch surfing, so it took a while to reconnect.
But Rudich was determined.
“In addition to being about poetry, it was about connecting, about putting your heart on your sleeve,” he says. “In a sense, the film is structured like a poem.
They shot for about 12 days, traveling to New Orleans, New York and Mott’s hometown of Lancaster, where Rudich interviewed her parents, Dave and Cindy Mott, who own the Hollinger House Bed & Breakfast and raised eight kids.
Rudich also traveled to San Francisco, where Mott got her start. He interviewed the man who inspired Mott to become a street poet, Lynn Gentry.
Mott’s meeting with Gentry was, in a way, similar to Rudich’s meeting with her. Something essential passed between them that changed their lives.
“I saw a guy under the Haight Ashbury sign (in San Fransciso) and he was writing poetry,” Mott recalls. “It was like something out of a dream and it was pulling me.”
She asked Gentry to write her a poem and she was amazed with the result.
“He asked me questions and listened to me and put all the pieces together,” she says.
Mott, who had written a lot of poetry in her life, was fascinated by Gentry and what he did.
“He suggested that I could do what he was doing,” Mott says. “That woke me up.”
And so, she tried it.
“The first time was terrifying,” she recalls. “A music festival going on, so lots of people were walking back and forth. I put myself out there.”
She found it to be nerve-wracking but still a great experience and came back the next day, setting up shop just about every day at 16th and Valencia.
She lets the person she’s writing the poem for name the price.
“People give me what they will,” she says. “They decide what it is worth.”
Mott has been a street poet for about three years now, starting when she was just 20.
The key, she says, to writing the poems is asking concrete questions. If someone asks you to write a poem about life, you’ve got to find out what it is they want to focus on.
She’s still a nomad, though home right now is Denver.
But after the film was shot and edited and completed, the festival circuit called.
“A Place of Truth” has been shows at the Palm Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Garden State Film Festival and the Mt. Hood Independent Film Festival in Hood River, Oregon.
And in November, it won the audience award at the Northwest Filmmakers festival in Portland.
“Audiences really seem to enjoy it,” Rudich says.
“I was blown away, seeing this movie that was so lovingly crafted,” Mott says.
Rudich confirms that he took great care in shooting the film.
“I wanted it to be like a visual poem.”