October 30, 2023 (premiere)
[90-minute documentary aired on PBS]
Wearing snapback caps and Air Jordans, the Reality Poets aren’t typical nursing home residents. In Fire Through Dry Grass, these young, Black and brown disabled artists document their lives on lockdown during Covid, their rhymes underscoring the danger and imprisonment they feel. In the face of institutional neglect, they refuse to be abused, confined, and erased. Co-produced with ITVS.
Fire Through Dry Grass uncovers the devastation experienced by residents in one New York City nursing home during the coronavirus pandemic. Co-director Andres “Jay” Molina takes viewers inside the facility with his fellow “Reality Poets,” a group of mostly gun violence survivors who live at Coler, the Roosevelt Island home to a community of physically and/or cognitively impaired New Yorkers.
Wearing snapback caps and Jordans, Jay and the other poets don’t look like typical nursing home residents. They used to travel around the city sharing their art and hard-earned wisdom with youth. Now, using GoPros clamped to their wheelchairs, they document their harrowing experiences locked inside Coler: patients that tested positive for COVID-19 are moved into their bedrooms; nurses fashion PPE out of garbage bags; refrigerated-trailer morgues hum outside residents’ windows. All the while public officials deny the suffering and dying behind Coler’s brick walls. The Reality Poets’ rhymes flow throughout the film, underscoring their feelings that their home is now as dangerous as the streets they once ran and—as summer turns to fall turns to winter—that they’re prisoners without a release date. But instead of history repeating itself on this tiny island with a dark history of institutional neglect and abandonment, Fire Through Dry Grass shows these disabled Black and Brown artists refusing to be abused, confined, erased.