DRUM ARTS CENTER, BIRMINGHAM –
The BEST OF THE REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL opened at the Drum Arts Center on Friday, May 18th with the UK Premier of young Jamaican film maker Chris Byfield‘s new and first-ever film “Red, Amber, Green“, a tale of three windscreen washers earning a living at Kingston’s busy stop lights. The audience gave a long around of applause after the film in support of the young film maker’s first film. The positive storyline went down well with the locals.
Following Red, Amber, Green, local Dub Poet and performing artist Kokumo made an onstage performance with full band which included a violinist, which is quite unusual for a reggae band. Next film shown was “Fire Burn Babylon“, the story of a group of displaced Rastas who were forced to leave their homeland after the volcanic erruption on the island of Monserrat. The group of friends moved to London and the film followed the trials and tribulations which laid ahead, as they coped with the dramatic change in their lifestyle and environment.
Following this was the film that everyone had been waiting for, Esther Anderson’s ‘Bob Marley: Making of a Legend’. This was the UK premier of the final edit of this film, so quite a special occasion for all. All seats were taken and for the next 90 minutes all eyes were glued to the screen.
Following the film Esther Anderson and producer Gian Godoy were invited up to speak for a Q+A session. Esther talked about filming Bob back in the early 70’s and also spoke about the new soundtrack that she has put together for the film with the help of many of Bob’s friends and their children. She said it didn’t start out this way; the film originally had the original audio which Esther had filmed of Bob singing, but Chris Blackwell who owns the majority of all Bob and the Wailers works did not give her the permission she needed to go ahead with the film with Bob’s music. This was quite a disappointment for all involved in the film, but Esther later realized that it would be better to have Bob’s friends and their children get involved in the film which seemed to be the right thing to do with this film, so she put together a new soundtrack which is really amazing. Andrew Tosh was involved, Lioness Fonz, and Akila Barrett also contributed, amongst many others.
Esther also mentioned that the new Kevin MacDonald film “Marley” used her footage without permission. She said they asked her for permission and she gave them a quote, but they ended up using it anyway without paying her anything and said that a 3rd party claimed ownership. It all sounded like a ploy to get the footage for free, knowing that Esther would have to take them to court to do anything about it, but this is exactly what she is doing. She refuses to just sit back and let them steal her material without her permission; she says this is a matter of principle and she will not settle until the matter has been dealt with.
DAY TWO (19th May)
The first film shown at 3pm was ‘Fire in Babylon’ directed by Stevan Riley and made by the producers of Academy Award-winning films ‘The Last King of Scotland‘ and ‘One Day in September’ about the domination of the West Indian cricket team who, with a combination of phenomenal skill and fearless spirit, became one of the greatest teams in sports history. With impressive archival footage and a robust soundtrack that includes the likes of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Gregory Isaacs, Faithless and Horace Andy, FIRE IN BABYLON celebrates the emancipation of a people through sport, and paints a fascinating picture of an era rooted in sports, politics, pride, anti-colonial fury and music.
This was followed by ROCKSTEADY – THE MOVIE, a coming of age story set against the world of dirt track stock car racing in rural New York, starring Cedric Sanders and David ‘Steel Pulse’ Hinds. Set to a reggae soundtrack and featuring acting and musical performances by Grammy award-winning group Steel Pulse, ROCKSTEADY follows a young man’s journey over the course of a racing season, but more importantly of self-discovery and growth. The story is filled with humor, poignancy, subtle racial tension, intrigue and plenty of racing action.
This was a very interesting day at the Festival, due to the discussion after the second feature film “We The Raggamuffin” by Julian Henriques, a film made in 1992 for Channel 4. The story of how two killers invade a club and the local musicians drive them peacefully from their manor, was the first film of it’s kind to use an all-Jamaican cast in a UK dram, including local reggae stars Original Mikey General and the Saxon Sound System crew. The film depicts the North Peckham housing projects outside of London, home to many Britons of West Indian heritage. Henriques’s film examines the “Ragamuffin” urban subculture in the area, with its distinct clothing style and ties to Rastafarian ideology.
The audience laughed and cheered the comedy duo who were thugs chasing down Bucky Ranks, a local dancehall star. This film is a rare little gem from the Channel Four archive which is rarley seen and only broadcast once back in 1992. This film was a great choice for the program which the locals most certainly appreciated.
‘BAD FRIDAY’ by director Deborah Thomas and Junior Wedderburn, a documentary that focuses on a community of Rastafarians in western Jamaica who annually commemorate the 1963 Coral Gardens “incident,”. This was a moment just after Independence when the Jamaican government rounded up, jailed and tortured hundreds of Rastafarians after 3 men attacked a gas station and killed 2 men. The film chronicles the history of violence in Jamaica through the eyes of its most iconic community, and shows how people use their recollections of past traumas to imagine new possibilities for a collective future. The film was shot on location in Jamaica, and the original score features modern renderings of the traditional musical forms that comprise the roots of reggae music.
Following the screening we had a special guest, local dub poet Moqapi Selassie to host a debate on the film which included the subject of Rastafari. Fortunately, we happened to have some of members from the different local Rasta groups in attendance and the debate got quite lively at times. What really came through in the discussion was the sadness felt by those watching the film and the point was raised that Coral Gardens took place not too long ago, in the early 1960’s in the lifetimes of most of those in the room watching the film.
One person commented on how he shed a tear while listening to the comments from those who were involved. Someone else asked the question of whether the mass rounding up of all the Rastas of the time was possibly part of a bigger plan to wipe out Rastafari in Jamaica at the time, as the whole government/police reaction to such a minor event in a small region seemed to have such a huge consequence for Rastas all over Jamaica, and the audience questioned why this was.
BIRMINGHAM EVENT ‘A GREAT SUCCESS’. The Reggae Film Festival opened the Drum Arts Center‘s long list of Jamaica 50 Celebrations and was a great success. This was the RFF’s second year at DRUM and we hope to visit the venue again next year to bring more films about Jamaican culture, which are proving to be very popular amongst the locals. Birmingham has one of the UK’s largest Jamaican communities. You might walk down the street and think you are in Jamaica just by the number of Jamaicans and Rastas, so it is an ideal location for the Reggae Film Festival to showcase its films. We intend to build on our links next year with the City and the well-known DRUM Arts Center.
Report by RFF/JFA Director PETER GITTINS