Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
The softer, gentler side of the late Professor Rex Nettleford will be very evident in a new film which is now in production, aptly called Long Live The King.
Written and directed by the same man who brought the recently released Renaissance Man to life, Lennie Little-White, Long Live The King will expose Nettleford as the humanitarian who always reached out to the less privileged, while living a simple and sober life that mirrored his formative years as a country boy from the plantation state.
Little-White made the announcement during the University of the West Indies, Mona-Western Jamaica Campus-organised screening of Renaissance Man at the Palace Multiplex Cinema in Montego Bay last Thursday.
"Professor Nettleford was one who was never just about cap and gown, and jacket and tie," said Little-White, adding that as a writer/director who benefited immensely from the late cultural maestro, he owes it to him to document and show his many diverse perspectives as a rounded human being, "even without any tangible funding to date".
Little-White said when he first conceptualised Renaissance Man in 2003, it immediately received Nettleford's blessing; however, several attempts to secure funding from the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund were rejected.
"I remain grateful to the Rex Nettleford Foundation, who sourced the funding to allow the completion of the production," Little-White said.
NEED FOR FINAL INSTALLATION
However, "he who pays the piper calls the tune. Unfortunately, as the director and writer, I had to make many compromises in the final cut that did not paint a rounded picture of the man as artist, teacher, family man, [and] loyal friend".
Hence, the need to do the final part of the Nettleford trilogy, which he says will be completed by year-end, "and hopefully, this will expose more of the 'ordinary man' that was not covered in the 45-minute version of Renaissance Man".
No, he has not found funding for the project as yet, but he is in the studios regularly placing the finishing touches on what can only be described as a masterpiece chronology to Renaissance Man, which will be released in Port-of-Spain, the eastern Caribbean, New York, Washington, Toronto and "of course, Rhodes House, Oxford", says former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who is a board member of the Rex Nettleford Foundation.
Held under his patronage, it was Patterson who invited Little-White to the Montego Bay screening.
"This is an honour I will always treasure," said the film's director, adding that as one who got his high-school foundation at Cornwall College (before Jamaica College), coming "home" was special.
According to Little White, this was the same crucible that started the creative fire burning in Nettleford as a young schoolboy.
The theatre was packed, many of the guests were students, some representing Nettleford's alma mater, Cornwall College.
At the end of the film, the audience remained glued to their seats, hungry for more of the digital essay that looks at the life of the "country boy who came to town" then blazed a trail across the globe.
This did not go unnoticed by Little-White, who suggested that, for many young Jamaicans, 'success' is a foreign concept that can only be achieved through sports, popular music, the lottery scam, or the barrel of a gun.
Little-White feels that the story of Nettleford's rise to the pinnacle of the arts and academia demonstrates to the new generation that there are other highways to the top "if we are prepared to have a vision and work assiduously to achieve our goals".
Class contradictions and race, Little-White noted, still create an impediment to many of the country's youth, but like Nettleford - with a little help from mentors - "it is not impossible to reach pinnacles that our foreparents never dreamt of".
According to the director, Nettleford's constant reminder that "we, the sons and daughters of Garvey" still have one foot in the canefield, should be the constant trigger for young people to aim higher.
Nettleford was born in Trelawny and never forgot his roots, said Dr Luz Longsworth, director at the University of the West Indies, Mona-Western Jamaica Campus.
"He always referred to his grounding in the west and at Cornwall College as being responsible for his success. The premiere of the documentary in Montego Bay, therefore, is a true homecoming," she stated.
She noted that the late professor's work was aimed at helping and developing young people, particularly those from humble beginnings.
According to her, the documentary captures the impact Nettleford had on Jamaica as a nation through culture, academia and public service.