Documentary About ‘Outlaw Poet’ Ron Whitehead To Premiere Tomorrow At Village 8

Tomorrow night, Village 8 will play host to the global premiere of a new documentary, “Outlaw Poet: The Legend of Ron Whitehead,” which profiles the eponymous Kentuckian writer.

The event will run from 6-9 p.m. at Village 8, then there’ll be an afterparty at High Horse Bar, where Whitehead will perform with his band, The Storm Generation Band. 

You can buy tickets, posters and DVD and Blu-Ray copies of the movie at this link. Not including taxes and fees, general admission tickets are $12; VIP tickets are $40 and include admission to the afterparty, a gift bag with an autographed poster, a seat near Whitehead and others involved with the film at the premiere, a free digital download of the movie, and a meet and greet with Whitehead. Tickets to the afterparty are $10. 

“Outlaw Poet: The Legend of Ron Whitehead” was supposed to have played at film festivals in the spring of 2020 but was delayed for obvious reasons.

Whitehead is a writer, educator and activist, amongst numerous other titles, who grew up on a farm in Kentucky and graduated from UofL. His accolades include the National Beat Poetry Foundation’s titles of U.S. National Beat Poet Laureate for 2021-2022 and the State of Kentucky Beat Poet Laureate for 2019-2021.

The hour-and-a-half-long movie documents the last ten years of his pre-pandemic life, including his travels, his performances, his struggles with sobriety, his upbringing and more.

Whitehead told LEO that the process of learning to “[be] able to be vulnerable, publicly and openly” in the movie had been a challenge, albeit one that was ultimately worth it.

“I was raised to be a warrior by my dad. Mama taught me to be compassionate, and so I was raised to be a gentle warrior,” he said. “But opening up and sharing and all the great failures of my life — it’s not always the easiest thing to do.”

“Writing, as you know, is a healing art,” he continued. “I chose a long time ago to be an open book and to be transparent and share my life with other people. My feeling is that we’re all dirty potatoes floating in the same tub of polluted water, and the more we bang into each other by openly, honestly sharing the stories of our lives, the more we [be]come clean, and how can I preach that gospel without living it and being it myself?”

Whitehead is a proud Kentuckian, which is reflected in his work and in the movie; numerous Kentuckians, including Mayor Fischer, make appearances in the film. As Whitehead told LEO, “I preach the Kentucky gospel wherever I go.”

“I think Kentucky is a place where diamonds are created from intense pressure from all sides that does its best to break us,” he said. It “usually, often, does break us, but it reshapes us.”

The documentary also showcases the meetings and artistic collaborations Whitehead has had with cultural figures like the Dalai Lama, Hunter S. Thompson, Muhammad Ali, Allen Ginsberg and Johnny Depp. (In fact, Whitehead presented Depp with his official Kentucky Colonel certificate in 1996.) Whitehead told LEO that if he could collaborate with any other major figure, it’d be Bob Dylan, whom he says “brought poetry to rock and roll.”

The filmmakers, Nick Storm and Clayton L. Luce, gathered hundreds of hours of footage of Whitehead over the course of a decade, some of which they had to acquire from other people because it was shot long before their filming process began — even as far back as 1973. Storm told LEO that he and Luce easily could make a new movie every year solely from the footage they’ve acquired.

A key scene in the movie features Whitehead’s meeting with the Dalai Lama at the latter’s first visit to Kentucky in 1994. Through a translator, Whitehead asked the Dalai Lama for a message he could share with young people at his upcoming festival, which celebrated the Beat movement. The Dalai Lama’s happy message — an exhortation to “never give up” — inspired Whitehead to write a poem with the same name. He credits the Dalai Lama for it, too; the poem is a written account of their exchange. Later, Whitehead asked the Dalai Lama for his blessing to publish and distribute the poem on posters, which he granted. Whitehead says the message is now “a daily mantra” for himself.

Watch a trailer for “Outlaw Poet: The Legend of Ron Whitehead” here:

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