In tribute to the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will screen 14 films dedicated to the most renowned and musical Caribbean destination.
The series is named after a song released by the group Toots and the Maytals’ called “Do The Reggay.” Widely regarded as the song to launch the name “reggae,” its release clued the world to the hard-driving beat and its associated land of origin.
Reggae was born in the late 60s from previous genres ska and rock steady. Prior to that era mento, the island’s folk music dominated the country.
From Aug. 2 through Aug. 6, BAMcinématek will offer the 14-film series dedicated to the country’s unique and widely influential musical tradition.
Documentaries, features and a world premiere film will showcase the music, culture, politics and mood of a people who have proven that their decision to rule themselves in 1962 was more than a passing fancy.
“Distinguished by the offbeat accent and socially conscious influences including the Rastafarian faith, reggae is a deeply experimental and influential musical form, single-handedly paving the way for rap, hip-hop, and remix which was invented in the early 70s in Jamaica.
Through decades of political unrest in Jamaica and racial violence against Caribbean immigrants in Europe and North America, reggae in all its forms has endured as an essential conduit for social protest, individual expression, and spiritual exploration.”
Focusing on vintage films from 1971 to 1983, the series opens with the Trench Town-set “Rockers.”
As a special bonus, “Rockers” will be followed by “Downtown Top Ranking,” a party at BAMcafé with Deadly Dragon Sound System and featuring legendary DJ Ranking Joe.
Although Perry Henzell’s 1972 “The Harder They Come” is widely considered the watershed film about reggae, Ted Bafaloukos’ “Rockers” is the original artifact of Rasta cinema.
Showing theatrically for the first time in New York in over a decade, a new hi-def restored version offers a celebration of Jamaican music and culture and provides an eye-opening document of the hand-to-mouth life of musicians living in Kingston’s shanty-towns.
“The Harder They Come” is slated for the following day and stars Jimmy Cliff as island outlaw Ivanhoe Martin.
Before Bob Marley made it big stateside, Cliff took the midnight movie circuit by storm, unveiling this new reggae sound to American audiences.
Based on the namesake Jamaican bandit and folk hero from the 40s, the film not only made Cliff a star, but tells the story of reggae in a microcosm.
The storyline follows the country boy going to Kingston to make it big.
There he encounters conflict with the push-and-pull of the Rasta spirituality and rude-boy swagger.
He is victimized by greed and mafia tactics from unscrupulous record producers.
Ganja and a love for the movies are Ivan’s pastime indulgences and his bad-boy persona crystallizes at a rowdy screening of a cowboy movie film showing.
“Land Of look Behind” screens on Aug. 3 to present a profound meditation on the island—from its Rasta tenets to its still-endemic colonialist tendencies and history of tragic political violence.
The result is a travelogue, as well as an indictment of a police state rife with violence and poverty.
“Roots, Rock Reggae” on Aug 5 showcases one of reggae’s most enduring characters and acclaimed Godfather of Reggae, Lee “Scratch” Perry.
The hour-long document compiles famous and rare footage of the influential producer “gesticulating wildly” behind the boards at his celebrated Black Ark studio.
The filmmaker also trains his lens on reggae forefather Vincent Chin and his renowned Randy’s Record Store.
He also captures harmony trios The Abyssinians and The Mighty Diamonds live at their peak.
DJs U-Roy and U-Brown ride the riddims toasting and rapping to the approval of Kingstonians.
Inner Circle — composers of television “Cops” show theme song “Bad Boys”– are also caught on celluloid at their most famous, living high up in the hills of Kingston away from the “sufferation.”
Legendary reggae producer Clive Chin (son of Vincent Chin) will appear for a Q&A after the screening.
“Deep Roots Music” on Aug. 5 is slated to provide a comprehensive documentary on reggae, ending in the dancehall era of the early 80s.
The film is narrated by DJ Mikey Dread (The Clash’s producer and reggae mentor).
One of the most revelatory films in the entire series, and quite possibly the first feature ever made on the genre is master director Horace Ové’s documentary “Reggae.”
The centerpiece of Ové’s film is a 1970 UK concert featuring Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, the Pioneers, John Holt, and others.
The film is revered for presenting an early exploration and understanding for both the societal impact and force of the music. Critics claim it also invokes an empathy for Black and white youth culture.
“Babylon” opens on Aug. 4. Franco Rosso’s cult feature on sound systems in Britain;
“Word, Sound and Power” on Aug 5 shines a spotlight the Soul Syndicate Band.
“Heartland Reggae” on Aug 5 documents the most important live reggae event of its era, the One Love Peace Concert which features Bob Marley in his first appearance after his attempted assassination at his 56 Hope Road home in Kingston.
“Countryman” made in 1982 revisits a campy Rasta fisherman to provide cult political adventure.
And as a special tribute to 70s DJ I-Roy, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte’s Black western “Buck and the Preacher” is an added treat.
“OnePeople” closes out the series with a world premiere presentation.
The document comprises video submissions from individuals around the world expressing—through song, dance, poetry, landscapes, artwork, and stories—what Jamaica means to them.
Produced by Justine Henzell (daughter of Perry Henzell), this Jamaica-50 project will premiere simultaneously in London and Kingston, exemplifying the nation’s motto by uniting the work of many filmmakers into the collective film of one people.
For more information on the series, log onto www.bam.org
Catch You On The Inside!