Jamaica – Film Capital of the Caribbean
More and more each week, Jamaica becomes the film capital of the Caribbean, with a waiting list of films made by Jamaicans, in Jamaica and about Jamaica lined up for release in the next few weeks. At the same time, I keep receiving news of still more films waiting in the wings and premiering at international film festivals.
Hot on the heels of last week’s successful launch of BETTER MUS’ COME is RISE UP, a feature-length documentary due to premiere in Kingston on October 27. Directed by Argentina-born Luciano Blotta and produced by Jamaicans Mark Hart and Carlo ‘Amlak’ Less, the film shines a spotlight on Jamaica’s underground music scene by focusing on 3 young artists – Kemoy Lewis, Ice Anastasia (now performing as ‘Juss Ice’) and Turbulance who, when the film was made 7 years ago, was still an ‘upcoming artist’, and who has now become a successful reggae star.
The film is coming to Jamaica after reaching a worldwide audience in international film festivals, cinemas and on television, earninng several awards in the process for its creatively developed storyline, its stirring soundtrack and cinematography. RISE UP traces the lives of three young Jamaicans, struggling for their big break as recognised artistes — Turbulence, born Sheldon Campbell from Kingston’s inner city, whose career launched into orbit after RiseUp cameras stopped rolling; Clarendon-native, Kemoy Reid – a young girlwho has been blessed with awesome vocals; and Juss Ice, born Michael Lewis to uptown parents, who dubs his unique sound New Soul Reggae.
RISE UP also features appearances and performances by other rising stars as well as Jamaican music legends, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. The documentary has been hailed as a new Jamaican film classic by legendary music producer Chris Blackwell who, upon viewing the film in May this year at a private screening, stated that “RISE UP’ is the best Jamaican film since The Harder They Come.”
HAVE ANOTHER LOOK
A DANCE FOR GRACE….
RISE UP’s release in Jamaican cinemas will be followed immediately by the premiere and islandwide release of A DANCE FOR GRACE, about which I reported some weeks ago. Winner of the Reggae Film Festival 2010 Honour Award for Jamaican Feature Film, the film takes a look at Dancehall as a new dance form, rather than just a genre of ‘slack’ reggae music and, by projecting it through a heroic story with an American plot, takes Dancehall ‘to di worl’, as pleasantly as Usain Bolt’s famous Olympic victory jig.
It’s a simple story about a US high school dance team trying to win a competition and raise money for a sick elder. A Jamaican substitute teacher suggests they choreograph dancehall steps and takes them to Jamaica to learn it from the authentic performers.
There’s lots of dancing, especially of the local dance groups competing in the video light, plus the coreographed numbers the Americans perform back home to win the competition and prize money. Written by Junior Powell and produced by lead actor Orville Matherson, with co-producers Kingston executive Joan Edwards and American Dale Foti under their Tower Isle Productions, A DANCE FOR GRACE is poised to be both a hit with young music fans, as well as an instant cross over to the American popular market.
AND ‘BETTER..’ HAS COME…
This high visibility of Jamaican films has been led by the strong showing of BETTER MUS’ COME, the film by Storm Saulter that in just one week of premiere and opening night, has become the most talked-about and praised Jamaican film since THE HARDER THEY COME. The acclaim for BETTER MUS’ COME has been universal and if they can keep a lid on the piracy that seems to have emerged in just one week of release, it is certainly heading for blockbuster status at the box office – not just in Jamaica, but the world.
The film shows the great potential in Jamaican film makers, as the example of BETTER MUS’ COME will undoubtedly be emulated by the crop of young film makers sprouting all around. I can only hope that Jamaican and international investors are realizing that there is money to be made in the Jamaican film industry and getting ready to write those production sponsorships cheques for the many films-in-waiting.
WAITING IN THE WINGS….
As if those films are not enough, we have the promise of JAMDOWN – the film that revives the early and brilliant career of The Congos, which had its European launch in London recently and was also screened at Rototom Sunsplash.
FIRE IN BABYLON
However, the film I am most eager to see is the brand new documentary FIRE IN BABYLON, which had its World Premiere this week in London at the Vue Cinema, Leicester Square.
It’s a film about the heyday of West Indian Cricket in the days such heroes as Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding and others drove fear into the hearts of their opponents with their brilliant attacking brand of the game. As the film’s promo describes it: “The film charts the glorious supremacy of the West Indies cricket team throughout the late 70s and 80s, and describes how the bat and ball was more effective than gunfire in the battle against racial injustice and the struggle for Black rights.
At a time of anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, race riots in England and civil unrest in the Caribbean, the West Indian cricketers struck a wonderfully defiant blow at the forces of white prejudice world-wide. With Caribbean flair, fearless spirit and a thumping reggae beat, they hijacked the genteel game of the priveleged elite and replayed it on their own terms. By dominating at the highest level – longer than any team in the history of sport – their symbolic declaration was clear: people of colour will not be dictated to, whether on a cricket ground or in any other field of life.
The film’s director is Steven Riley, whose most recent film Blue Blood (2007) dramatically portrayed the historic boxing rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge Universities. It premiered at the NY’s Tribeca Film Festival, was released in UK cinemas by Warner to widespread critical acclaim and earned Stevan a nomination for Best Film at the Evening Standard Awards as well as Best British Newcomer at the London Critic’s Circle.
Producer Charles Steel is a BAFTA winning film producer and managing director of Cowboy Films, who produced feature films ‘Amy Foster’ (aka ‘Swept From the Sea’); and Kevin MacDonald’s ‘The Last King of Scotland’ about Idi Amin (2006) which won numerous awards including an Oscar for Best Actor and a BAFTA for Best British Film.
With a soundtrack of classic reggae by such artists as Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs and Burnning Spear, FIRE IN BABYLON is an education not to be missed. The battle with bat and ball only scratches the significance of this untold epic of sporting history. According to Director Riley, “The West Indian team’s glorious reign marks the final chapter in a freedom fight stretching back 500 years to the African slave ships. As inheritors of 60s Rastafarianism and Black Power, the example of this talented generation was clear – to release black people worldwide from the modern yoke of mental slavery. Whether in Harare, Trenchtown, Handsworth or Soweto – the system of oppression they confronted had one name…. that name was ‘Babylon’. Their message and spirit is I hope something that will inspire, entertain and galvanise people of all backgrounds and ages.”
AND FINALLY, GOOD NEWS ABOUT ‘JOSEPH’…
… interest by an investor means that this still-in-development feature film based on the novel JOSEPH – A RASTA REGGAE FABLE’ may soon be ready to roll. After all, Storm Saulter says it took 7 years to bring BMC to the Carib Cinema, so 2-year-old ‘JOSEPH‘ is well within the timeline for a Jamaican movie production.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Jamaica is the film capital of the Caribbean … SOON TO BE THE WORLD!!!