by PETER GITTINS – Co-Director, Reggae Film Festival
ROTOTOM WENT VERY WELL
The Rototom festival went very well, better than the organizers had expected. The numbers of people really exceeded all their expectations. They never expected so many people would turn up as reggae isn’t usually known as being big in Spain, but the event drew people from all over Europe, many came from the UK, Germany, France etc. I even spotted many Jamaicans there! Africans, people of all nations had come to the event.
Some of the headlining acts where Alpha Blondy, Pablo Moses, Fantan Mojah, Marcia Griffiths, Mighty Diamonds, Abyssinians, Albarosie, Busy Signal, Linval Thompson, some well known sound systems form the UK attended, Jah Shaka and Dave Rodidgan.
There was also a European dancehall contest running for days where bands from each country would perform in competition and judges would vote on the best. The festival had a dub area, ska, main stage, lion stage, House of Rastafari tent which was showing some Rasta films and had a Rasta art exhibition.
The festival really livened up at night after midnight when usually most festivals are closing down about this time Rototom was gearing up for the influx of festival goers who had been sleeping during the day and keeping out of the sun. The problem for most was the heat as that week the TV had been reporting about a heat wave that was coming from Africa which spread across spain, by the Friday it had got as high as 45 degrees, this was causing people many problems especially those who where camping, so many people spent the days on the beach and near the sea where some of the Rototom music events took place in the day.
REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL
The film screenings where only a part of the music festival, so we had lots of people passing by the tent and popping in because the festival was full of tents doing all kinds of stuff but we had a good position in the Reggae University tent which was the Conference Centre by day and RFF by night. Each night we started showing films at 12 midnight; each night was approx. 3hrs long, give or take 20-30mins and we also put some films on loop in the evening before the festival started and this got in a small crowd. We mainly played ‘Roots Time’ on loop and everyone enjoyed it.
I had 2 people help with speaking, mainly Nicole Hewitt and also she recruited an English guy to talk on day 2+3 so this was a great help. I prepared speeches for them which was basically a synopsis on each film and a small bit about the 24 hr film competition, when we showed the 2 short films. We stuck to the program apart from a couple of things we missed out and jiggled it about but all went well and not one complaint. Everyone knew that you had probs getting here so we had some probs with the films. This was announced and explained why some films weren’t in the right place on the program.
Day one was a full house (well 90% full) so was really good, very impressed with the turn out.
To be honest I didn’t get much chance to see the festival side of things as i was busy every day Wed-Fri with the films, getting them ready on time. I did this Wed-Fri, from 7pm each night till abour 3:30am.
The people who deserve some real thanks in all of this are Nicole Hewitt who really helped us and an Italian guy named Mauro who was the head of IT. He went out of his way to get us internet connection and burn off any downloads I made, etc. He was a great help as was the projectionist guy who was from Modena in Italy. He runs his own sound system. These guys were great and they loved to see the RFF in Rototom.
STALL FROM TRENCH TOWN
It was very nice to see that they had a stall there from Trench Town. It was the “Trenchtown Reading Centre” which I visited with Bernard Collins of the Abyssinians. He lives in Trench Town, so was keen to speak with the stall owners about their work. The lady who was running the stall had never actually been to Jamaica ,but had heard about the project on the internet 3 yrs earlier. She really warmed to what the Reading Centre was about and started working for them as a volunteer 3yrs ago, so she contacted Rototom and they allowed her to setup a stall which was great.
The stall was full of pictures of the Centre in Trench Town and all the kids with books etc. I think the idea was to get books to the children there and they were appealing for support so they could build a school etc., so was very nice to see this at Rototom. They hope to get one of the other Trench Town groups involved for next year — I think she said it was “Culture Yard” they wanted to get involved, who where already based in Trench Town doing good work.
The festival was full of food stalls from all over the world, Cuban, Mexican, Italian, Jamaican, Indian, Chinese, Guinea-Bissau(East Africa), so plenty of great food to choose from, also many clothing and trinket stalls packed with the red/gold+green colours.
DREADLOCKED WHITE PEOPLE!
What amazed me personally was the huge number of dreadlocked white people, mainly Spanish and European but a huge percentage of those at the event had dreads! Was very interesting. I have to say for me this is the biggest reggae event I have ever seen or heard about, to see so many stages and acts all in one place at the same time was amazing. Just a shame that this wasn’t happening in Jamaica but what a tribute to Jamaican culture that all these Europeans are embracing the culture.
Hope this helps give you an idea of what it was like. Congrats especially to Sabrina and Gina who did so much to get this all together and to get us there. They must be exhausted! We missed you, but there’s always next year!
On July 1, Jamaica was making international news headlines following the mayhem caused by the security forces attempt to capture and extradite an alleged drugs-and-guns mastermind, and the tourist board had put in place an $11 million PR campaign to try and counteract the negative news coverage of the island. At the height of the hysteria, ‘WAH DO DEM’ – an independent, low-budget reggae film shot in Jamaica and premiered at February’s Reggae Film Festival in Kingston – was reviewed in the influential New York Times newspaper, singlehandedly boosting Jamaica’s image and reminding the world of the lovely island and people we are.
Writes the NYT: Horizons are expanded and exoticism explored in “Wah Do Dem,” a shaggy road movie about relinquishing your comforts to find your bliss. Our halfhearted traveler is Max (Sean Bones, drifting rather than acting), a Brooklyn musician reconciling two tickets for a Caribbean cruise and a last-minute kiss-off from his unrepentant girlfriend (a minuscule cameo by Norah Jones). A tedious sea voyage populated mainly by sexagenarians leaves Max even more depressed, so when the ship docks in Jamaica he sees an opportunity to shake off his ennui. Local people, for their part, see a sheep ripe for fleecing and a mind longing to be freed.
Lively support from local actors and musicians (including a surreal performance by the Congos) is invaluable, as is the authenticity of the setting. The cultural richness of Jamaica — presented here with a faintly menacing underbelly — is a world away from the bland safety of the cruise ship.
That the review was published on a day being celebrated globally and virally as International Reggae Day, made it even more significant and meaningful, but Jamaica’s greatest delight came from the fact that the film won the Honour Award for International Feature Film at February’s staging of the Reggae Film Festival in Kingston. Written and directed by Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, “Wah Do Dem” (Jamaican patois for “What’s the matter with them?”), the film includes a cameo performance by noted actor Carl Bradshaw, as well as discovering a new talent in young Ocho Rios native Mark Gibbs as ‘Juvie’, the young ‘bad man’ who eventually helps Max.
The film delighted audiences at the Reggae Film Festival, and directors Chace and Fleischner travelled to Jamaica to present their film to a satisfied audience and receive their Honour Award. The NYT review was ‘very much appreciated’ by them, and while managing screenings in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, they have returned to the island to make preparations for their second Jamaica film.
Reggae Film Festival directors were rejoicing at the New York Times attention, hoping it would make Jamaican tourism entities grateful that an event they do not recognize or support gave Jamaica some very valuable and positive publicity at a time when it was sorely needed.
‘WAH DO DEM” will be included in the Best of the Reggae Film Festival programme being presented at Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival being held in Bencassim, Spain, August 21-30.
R.I.P. SUGAR MINOTT – THE SPOTLIGHT WILL NEVER FADE
WINNING DOES NOT MAKE A STAR
He was eliminated in the semi-finals of the popular TV dancehall contest “Magnum Kings & Queens, but the howls of protest from the hundreds at the venue brought a smile to the face of the only contestant confident enough to face the cameras without dark glasses. Acknowledging his cheering fans, CHOZEN stepped from the stage and into the kind of instant stardom that has eluded the man who eventually won the contest and Million Dollar prize.
His clean-cut good looks and confident manner entranced the mostly female crowd throughout the contest’s weekly rounds and while the decision (made by telephone call-ins and marathon telethons by some contestants) seemed unexpected, it has not stopped his legion of fans from growing. He was mobbed by fans when he performed at the recent Cheerleaders competition, and screamed onto and off the stage at the Portland staging of the Kings & Queens tour and the adulation is so intense that these days he travels with an official security detail.
The biggest test of all came at Friday night’s The Settlement show when dancehall artists with real or made-up grouses challenge each other to lyrical clashes. Chozenn was deemed the winner of a clash between himelf and his chief Kings & Queens rival, Juggla, who was ‘declared dead’ in the morning hours of the popular show. The decision seemed already made when he first stepped on stage, as screaming fans gave him a thunderous welcome.
As a dancehall artist, Chozenn says he keeps his lyrics ‘on the clean side’ and the only weapons he praises are ‘my lyrical bullets’. It’s always good to see a new dancehall artist rise, especially at a time when that genre of music is being forced to take a hard look at itself and the social issues it fertilizes. Chozenn is one of the new ones who have found the way to keep the music hot and topical, without sacrificing an ounce of respectability. We shall watch his career with interest.
July 22 is the date for the annual Jamaica OBSERVER Food Awards, a gastronomic feast when Jamaica’s best chefs, restaurants and food producers display their culinary creations in minature restaurants, cocktail lounges and tasting stations spread out on the East Lawn of historic Devon House, Kingston. Each year new and exciting dishes, foods and drinks compete for Awards that represent the Michelin stars of the Jamaican hospitality industry. With several chefs from leading hotels and the island’s epicurean restaurants, the night is a gourmet’s delight, while being a catalyst to inspire and promote the varieties of Jamaican cuisine.
OBSERVER Style Editor Novia McDonald Whyte, who organises the annual event and chairs the panel of judges, promises that this year will have some surprises. A preview Seminar will be held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, Wednesday July 21 on the theme: Get Up! Get Drive! Turning the Consumer on in Challenging Times. Topical theme for the island that gave Jerk to di Worl’