Past the beaches, beyond the lure of the tourist attractions, lies the city of Kings. One epitomized through great storytelling and profound imagery – the beginning of fine filmmaking. Famed lines from classic island-made movies like Shottas, Dancehall Queen, and Better Mus Come, only capture the magic of the culture, the innate beauty of the people, and the ripe crop of talent. A documentation of art and business, mixed with reality – this is film/welcome to film in Jamaica.
The inaugural Jamaica Film Festival, hosted by the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) and the Jamaica Film Commission, was held this week at various venues in Kingston. The Festival offered a wide range of workshops and screenings that highlighted Jamaica’s filmmakers, writers, and directors. The opening ceremony on July 7 was hosted by Fae A. Ellington – Jamaican actress and media broadcaster; while Nicole Bernard and Gina Reyes – Fox Entertainment executives and founders of the Fox Writers Intensive & Fox Global Directors Initiative – presented at the Directors & Writers Intensive Workshop late Monday afternoon.
The week featured workshops on other topics including “The Key to Financing Your Film Project” which featured five panelists including Horace Madison and Arthur Wylie, CEOs of Madison Financial Group and Arthur Wylie Enterprises, respectively; “Marketing Your Film/TV Programme to the Best Corners of the World” with many panelists including actor Dorian Gregory of the TV show, Charmed; a presentation by first assistant director, Larry Katz, who emphasized the importance of safety on set and “The Breakthrough”, which discussed creative and typical ways to become part of the ever competitive film industry, and featured Tonya Lee Williams, known for her role as Dr. Olivia Winters on the classic soap Young & the Restlessand Stephen C. Bishop – more commonly known as his character David Paulk – of Being Mary Jane, who encouraged rising writers, directors, and filmmakers to “set small goals along your journey.”
The Festival also held screenings of approximately 40 films by a diverse group of filmmakers, that wowed the audience, emphasized the wide pool of talent and contributors Jamaica has to offer, and established Jamaica as a contender in the global film market.
Here are 13 films we loved from this year’s festival:
Gabrielle Blackwood began filming this documentary as a favor to a close friend. However, it quickly morphed into a poignant, full length documentary. The story details the challenges faced by Denis McKenzie, a Jamaican battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
13. Alia: Darling of the Pool
Alia Atkinson – Jamaican breaststroke world champion – is featured in this eponymous film that highlights her life through childhood, becoming a world record holder in Doha, Qatar and her subsequent accomplishments. The film was produced by Donald Oliver in partnership with iKon Media.
Lisa Pullen struggles to reconnect with herself after the death of her parents and a break-up with her longtime boyfriend, so she journeys to Jamaica to rediscover who she is. That is the basis of the Jeremy Whittaker film. The star studded cast only enhance the dynamic plot.
11. Star Boy
An animated short based on the book by Tilsa Wright is the love story of cricketer Brian Lane and Tania Watson. The pair fall in love in high school, and their love story continues on as they journey through life. The film was animated and directed by budding Jamaican filmmaker Stephen Williamson of Big Bomb Films.
Hawaii – though great – isn’t the only place for wicked waves and surfing. Horane Henry recognized that and created a film featuring the Jamnesia Surf Club. The surf club was founded by the Wilmots – Jamaica’s premiere surfing family – as a way to groom surfers and create a solid surfing community on the island.
9. The Gift
The Ken Petrie produced film is the coming of age story of a young boy. Filmed in Tupelo, Mississippi, the short begins on the boy’s eleventh birthday and follows his subsequent selection of a birthday gift that changes his life.
8. Diary of a Bad Man
The world premiere of the Diemiruaye Deniran directed film was held on the evening of July 8th at the Courtleigh auditorium. The film details the jaunt of Detective Simone Williams as she falls in love with Winston “Bucky” Bailey – a notorious drug dealer. It illustrates the challenges they face personally and professionally as they blur the lines of their relationship.
7. PAN! Our Musical Odyssey
The Jean Michel Gilbert film follows the journey of different individuals as they find a way to play music with a PAN band. For example, Jevanni as he struggles to be a part of the PAN band founded by his grandfather. The film also narrates the history of PAN on the islands of Trinidad & Tobago.
Guadeloupean actress and filmmaker, Mariette Monpierre, captures the journey of a Parisian student who returns home to Guadeloupe to find and connect with her father. Once she infiltrates his home as a babysitter for her father’s young granddaughter, she unearths a world fraught with adultery, mental illness, and secrets.
5. Derek Walcott, Poetry is an island
The film directed and produced by Ida Does and Rebecca Roos, respectively is an intimate look at the life of St. Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott. The film examines his favorite places, his St. Lucian home, and provides commentary from those closest to Walcott.
4. Kingston Paradise
Though released in 2013, the film is a classic written and directed by Mary Wells, featuring actors Christopher “Johnny” Daley and Camille Small. The film chronicles the story of hustlers Rocksy and Rosie through their lives in the Kingston city streets.
Created by Donovan Watkis and voiced solely by comic, Donald “Iceman” Anderson, C.A.K.L.E (Cartoon, Animation, Komedy, Laughter, Entertainment) is an animated, comedic interpretation of the classic love story of Caribbean men and women finding love and life in all the wrong places.
2. Finding Samuel Lowe
Finding Samuel Lowe chronicles the journey of Paula Williams Madison as she travels from Harlem to China to discover the ancestry of her grandfather – Samuel Lowe – and her Chinese heritage.