Sun | Jan 24, 2021

Looking beyond the obvious

Published:Friday | March 27, 2015 | 3:04 PM
Fiona Whitty surrounded by students of Boys Town All Age School
Jenny Gordon in the midst of shooting a documentary.
Students of Boys Town All Age School stream a film on the wall of their classroom.
Students of Boys Town All Age School try their hand with the camera
A screengrab from one of the films produced by Fiona Whitty and Jenny Gordon as a part of their downtown Kingston project.

The lanes of Trench Town evoke myriad emotions. On the face, it is another community where life evolves, but this Kingston neighbourhood is where one of the greatest musicians to walk planet earth once lived and germinated the seeds of reggae. The hometown of Bob Marley, this community stands encased in a time warp.

The scene fast-forwards to the second decade of the 21st century. Two young ladies are surrounded by a group of enthusiastic schoolchildren as they focus their cameras, capturing life as it whizzes past the frames.

Fiona Whitty and Jenny Gordon are more than cinematographers, they are a duo on a mission, who met while doing their master's at Chelsea College of Art in London.

"While there, we started to work and collaborate on art projects and found cultural similarities which we were interested in exploring further," said Gordon.

From there evolved a mission bound by a common thread - that of heritage, vibrancy and positivity. Gordon is half-Jamaican and Whitty is Irish.

"There are many historical links among the three countries," Whitty said. "From the colonial links, to the strong, social similarities between the Irish and Jamaicans, especially in their love of music, storytelling, and poetry."

The duo took their first flight to Kingston in 2010 and love evolved.

"We were fortunate enough to receive funding to do some research and development around the Jamaican, Irish, and British connections," Whitty said. "Since we came here first, we have fallen in love with the country and have returned, this being our fourth visit."


Armed with the objective of finding life beyond the sterile and the stereotypical, they ventured downtown.

It was a cultural shock.

"People, when they heard about it, were flabbergasted," said Gordon.

"We were surprised by how underdeveloped downtown is and the poverty and hunger the people are experiencing," Whitty said. "We also found the uptown and downtown divide and class segregation bewildering."

But their experience was, and still has been, that of finding life amid all that hustle and bustle.

"We found the energy of downtown Kingston, positively overwhelming with the sounds, smells, vibrancy, and colourful characters," Gordon said.

"We were aware of the violence and possible dangers, but most of the people we have met were protective and friendly and pleased to have us trying to work within their community, and we have made some lasting friendships," Whitty said.

"We are energised by the enthusiasm from the communities that want sustainable change to happen," added Gordon.

Both cinematographers say that from their previous engagement with the community of downtown Kingston, they found a very positive interest and enthusiasm for getting involved in creative thought processes.

"As outsiders, our aim is to bring a different energy to the area by creating a space for the local community to get involved with film projects, which will become part of the regeneration process of downtown Kingston," Gordon said.

"One of our aims is to encourage more of a crossover between uptown and downtown, just the simple fact of us, other individuals, and organisations being there doing it, makes it a more viable option for new people to get involved," she added.

Documenting the vibrancy of the oft-forgotten neighbourhood is not their sole objective. The pair is delving into developing a social commentary and a dialogue, with a deeper, meaningful, and sustainable impact. Imparting training and organising workshops is one such methodology.

"Our film workshops aim to make a difference by strengthening confidence, communication skills, and teamwork through the film-making process," said Gordon. "We want to open up dialogue and begin to create an artistic space to facilitate positive change."

Whitty expounded, "Our workshops aim to allow participants to increase their literacy, IT, and problem-solving skills, inspiring participants to use creativity in order to communicate, share, and celebrate their identity.

"We want this project to be open, inclusive of all cultural backgrounds, gender, age and abilities," she added.

They intend to be back next year to develop more sustainable projects, but for now, they are taking back a bagful of memories captured in their hearts showcase Jamaica to the world.

"We will be taking back the work produced to new audiences in Ireland and the UK to create new perspectives and possibilities for cross contamination between cultures," Gordon said.

For this pair, the film hasn't ended ... as yet.