Interesting Feature Documentary
‘Rise Up” the newest Jamaican film and — surprisingly — a documntary, premiered in Kingston at the Carib, the city’s main cinema and the reception was very positive. It’s rare – if ever – that a documentary film is screened at the Carib, and even rarer that a documentary film goes on island-wide release. But ‘Rise Up” is no ordinary documentary; the three stories of the three artists in the film make it feel like a feature film, as we follow each from the early years of their careers seven years ago.
Kemoy is an innocently beautiful country girl with a simple, unprocessed hairstyle and a pure angelic voice, singing songs with unique high notes that have flowed naturally out of her. She smilingly dismisses the neighbourhood boys who seek her company, holding out for which looks like a promising career. But when we return a year later, Kemoy is now pregnant. The film makers take their pregnant protege to seasoned performer, singer-pianist Suzanne Couch for some training, and then to audition for Sly & Robbie, who say she has massive potential. But when we next meet Kemoy, her singing dreams are on hold for motherhood of her 2 year old son.
Turbalance was a skinny, brash-talking teenager living at his mother’s humble home in the Hungry Town ghetto, when ‘Rise Up’ director Luciano Blotta first started filming. But he was sure he was going to make it and prepared to wait for his moment. After several songs that made little impact on the charts, as well as touring as opening act for Sizzla Kalonji, Turbalance burst into the reggae superstar galaxy with the video for his single “ The Most Notorious”, which went to No1 and established him as an artist. ‘Rise Up” enables the viewer to follow this journey from beginning to now, and we smile to see Turbalance showing us the additions and improvements he has made to his mother’s house and to the upgrade of the Hungry Town community.
Juss Ice has a different story. As narrator Malakat explains in the film, some people feel that reggae music ‘belongs to poor people’, so Michael “Ice’ Lewis — a white-skinned teenager from the same priveleged uptown origins as Sean Paul — constantly has to prove he is just as entitled as any other Jamaican to pour out the music within him, and worthy to be taken seriously. Ice has joined with two other white uptowners to form Ice Anastasia, a group whose CD is good enough to get them booked as an opening act on Reggae Sumfest 2005. As he drives his ‘criss’ car and visits his ‘downtown’ friends, we see a cocky, rootsy and talented artist whose song lyrics come from real life experiences.
But despite all preparations, the first-time-ever-on-stage debut of Ice Anastasia is an out-of-tune flop. Ice tells his team it was a bad show after all their rehearsals, but he throws his shoulders back and says “This is only the beginning.” The audience at the premiere applauded this scene loudly, and one person shouted “Don’t stop!”
Ice has continued his career nonsstop since then, making several singles and performing occasionally at clubs in Jamaica. He has built up a name for himself as one of the new crop of upcoming artists and “Rise Up” will help him get closer to his objective to fulfill the promise of the film. The day after the premiere, Ice and his new management invited me to the set of a video shoot for his new single.
The film shows three strong characters: one who made it, one who didn’t make it because of circumstances she couldn’t control, and one who is determined to make it, no matter what. “Rise Up” spreads their musical lives before us and invites us to continue watching. Director Luciano Blotta has done an excellent job, skillfully placing his camera as a fly-on-the-wall in some of the moments that make the film special.
Praise must also be given to Jamaican producer Carlo “Amlak” Less, who carefully negotiated all the many roads necessary to enable the director to capture the scenes and personalities of this charming film. I loved it.