Kingston Paradise sends mixed signals
Kingston Paradise was a familiar look into the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. Those accustomed to the buildings of downtown Kingston may find some pleasure in being able to identify some of the buildings and landmarks. Mary Wells finely displayed the potential of downtown as a background, with an impressive capture of the landscape at night time. But despite managing to collate potentially beautiful images, Wells failed to humanise the character's plight.
As usual, the anguish of living in the ghetto comes off as contrived and formed from the extreme end of the spectrum from which stereotypes are derived. Gunshots abound at the beginning of the film, an expected element that now served as an alarm clock and a jolting nuisance; a mockery of a threat that if meant to be comedic, instead just seemed exaggerated.
Often, even in the squalid and concurrently violent nature of the ghetto, the criminal element is motivated by struggles in a larger context. The film failed to capitalise on the opportunity to explore the incidents leading up to the marred but hopeful existence of the characters, and instead, like many other Jamaican films based in the ghetto, presented the characters 'just-so'.
The blurry boundaries of the leading character's relationship, while they did not need to be crisp, were blurred to the point of confusion. Rocksy, the film's would-be protagonist, played by Christopher 'Johnny' Daley, displayed no redeeming qualities, save his refuge in a book which, in itself, seemed forced into the plot. Rocksy's leading lady Rosie, played by Camille Small, may have been his business partner, his girlfriend, or just someone along for the ride. The uncertainty of where they stood with each other disallowed the audience knowledge of the root of their relationship and, therefore, the essence of their magnetism towards each other.
However, Mary Well's artistic skill as a director was evident in particular compositions throughout, and that elevated the film's mise-en-scene with poignant images punctuated with a menacing bass-driven theme. The victimised antagonist (who could have been positioned as a protagonist) had an almost explosive moment with a young boy in khakis, shrouded in darkness, illuminated only by a street lamp.
Another engaging composition, driven impressively by the indigenous African drum rhythms, took place when police officers attempted to apprehend an innocent man. The image of an older woman immediately reacting violently, as barrier between her assumed son and the policemen, displayed the primarily matriarchal structure of low-income Jamaican households.
The film premiered in 2013 at Toronto's Caribbean Tales Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Feature. The film also won Best Diaspora film at the 2014 Africa Movie Academy Awards. It was written, directed, and produced by Mary Wells.