In-person: Q&A with director Marc Levin, moderated by Sundance Film Festival Director Eugene Hernandez.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Hammer Museum members will have reserved seating available at the box office. The box office opens one hour before the first program of the day.


U.S., 1998

Los Angeles restoration premiere

After being charged with drug possession, small-time marijuana dealer and rapper Ray Joshua (Saul Williams) must navigate the Washington, D.C., criminal justice system. Though he faces a long imprisonment, his dreams for his future are ignited by writing instructor Lauren Bell (Sonja Sohn), who introduces him to the slam poetry world.

Filmed by documentarian Marc Levin in “drama-vérité” style, the fictional story is fused with the real-world backdrop of the nation’s capital, including the Dodge City neighborhood as well as an actual D.C. prison. Levin developed the story in collaboration with journalist Richard Stratton and the leads Williams and Sohn. Dialogue was mostly improvised by the actors, and the poetry recited is their own.

SLAM premiered to considerable festival success, receiving the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival as well as the Caméra d’Or and Prix du Public at Cannes. The film capitalized on the growing popularity of poetry slams, where participants recite spoken word poetry in a competitive setting. Saul Williams, a trained actor with an M.A. in acting from New York University, had previously won the Grand Slam Championships. He went on to release several critically acclaimed albums of both music and spoken word poetry. Artists and poets including Bonz Malone and Beau Sia populate the cast of SLAM, along with individual guards and incarcerated persons.

Like the powerful poetry in the film, SLAM uncompromisingly tackles critical issues of criminal justice reform, institutional racism, societal expectations and violence. When Ray is booked into jail, a guard rattles off the rates of Black men imprisoned in the District of Columbia, followed by, “Welcome to the D.C. prison. You might make it out, you might not.” But, as Ray begins to learn, freedom is something that can never be taken from you.—Jillian Borders

DCP, color, 104 min. Director: Marc Levin. Screenwriters: Sonja Sohn, Marc Levin, Bonz Malone, Saul Williams, Richard Stratton. With: Saul Williams, Sonja Sohn, Beau Sia, Bonz Malone, Lawrence Wilson.

Restoration funded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sundance Institute, UCLA Film & Television Archive. Restored by the Academy Film Archive and UCLA Film & Television Archive in conjunction with Sundance Institute from a 35mm interpositive, a 35mm magnetic track, DA-88s and an MO Disk. Laboratory services by Roundabout Entertainment, Inc., Deluxe Media Audio Services, DJ Audio, Inc. Special thanks to Marc Levin, Lionsgate.

Special thanks to our community partner: UCLA Hip Hop Initiative.

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