Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Commentary over the PA system. A cricket wicket with stumps in place. Batsmen frozen in position after playing glorious shots and a buzz from the growing audience in amphitheatre-style seating.
Not Sabina Park, Camp Road, on a glorious afternoon of cricket lovely cricket, but the Courtleigh Auditorium, New Kingston, on Saturday night, for graphic reflection on the halcyon days of the West Indies cricket team.
The Digicel-supported documentary Fire in Babylon made its Kingston premiere to a standing ovation, as just before the credits rolled former fast bowler and current cricket commentator, Michael Holding, stated that between February/March 1960 and February/March 1995, the West Indies did not lose a match.
hitting back at racism
Fire in Babylon puts that West Indies dominance in the context of striking back against colonialism and racism - literally, with the quick, hostile bowling quartet core of Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Andy Roberts, and later, Malcolm Marshall, and the mighty batting of Viv Richards.
And, of course, there was the stoic, savvy Clive Lloyd's leadership.
So the development of a team that turned out to be magical, after wilting under the salvos of the fast, ferocious and feared pair of Australian quickies, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson Down Under in 1975, was interwoven with the surrounding historical times. There was the Black Power movement through the Caribbean in the early 1970s, the wave of black migrants to England, apartheid and socialism.
Although the team's dominance continued for another decade, Fire in Babylon culminates with the 'Black Wash' of England in 1984.
The sole surviving Wailer, Bunny Wailer, is central to the documentary, which is steeped in heavy reggae rockers and has a couple touches of mento and dancehall.
Before the screening came the speeches. After the pre-screening recorded commentary ended, names like Botham, Patterson and Pollock making it obvious that they were matches from another era, the speechmakers stepped up to the podium close to the stumps at one end of the short pitch. They were framed by the night's live cricket shot makers, a pair on pedestals moving in unison to play imaginary cover drives and rest triumphantly on their bats.
Digicel Jamaica CEO Mark Linehan referred to the telecommunications company's support of West Indies cricket since 2004 and noted that after last Saturday's premiere Fire in Babylon would be shown in each of the host nations for this summer's international tours of the region.
The advertising campaign for those tours, 'Wi' All In', was also shown.
story from the heart
Fire in Babylon is produced by Charles Steel and John Battsek, with Stevan Riley wearing the dual caps of writer and director. Ben Elliott and Ben Goldsmith are co-executive producers. Elliott noted that the documentary had premiered at the 2010 London Film Festival "to an audience that had no interest in cricket - or so we thought".
Said Elliott: "We are so proud of this story. It comes from our heart."
He left the podium, but returned to read apologies from Sir Viv Richards, who is key to Fire in Babylon. The message said that he had just returned from the cricket World Cup in India and was having back problems.
Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Olivia Grange pointed to "the revolutionary power of bat, ball and determination".
"Fire in Babylon presents us with a chance to reflect on what we have achieved and what opportunities we have missed," Grange said.
LMH will distribute Fire in Babylon in all its formats across the Caribbean region.