Barbara Blake Hannah wants to pass it on - Veteran film-maker proposes ‘Caribbean Netflix’
“What’s in the darkness, must be revealed to light. We’re not here to judge, what’s good from bad, But to do the things that are right.” These are lyrics from Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Pass It On from the original Burnin’ album, released in 1973...
“What’s in the darkness, must be revealed to light. We’re not here to judge, what’s good from bad, But to do the things that are right.” These are lyrics from Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Pass It On from the original Burnin’ album, released in 1973. The song may be heard in the 1982 film Countryman, directed by the late Richard ‘Dickie’ Jobson and produced by Island Records, founded by Chris Blackwell. The star, Countryman, was played by Edwin Lothan – a fisherman-turned-actor who inspired the actual character. Countryman depicted the Rastafari lifestyle, which would eventually connect it to reggae music in viewers’ minds.
It is one of the few cult classic films that veteran film-maker Barbara Blake Hannah applauds, along with The Harder They Come (1972), Rockers (1978) and Stepping Razor: Red X (1992), as being part of an era that introduced Jamaica and reggae culture to the world.
“Even efforts like The Marijuana Affair,” she said, which was unreleased for nearly two decades, along with the others mentioned, “were the most fertile for the film industry.”
Blake Hannah added, “Palm Pictures’ Dancehall Queen in 1997 and Third World Cop in 1999 continued the trend. But things have slowed down from the Jamaican side, whilst the rest of the world jumped into the space to make features and documentaries about reggae and Jamaican culture.”
That is a constant discussion, with the question of why aren’t Jamaicans making more films about reggae music waiting to be answered.
Blake Hannah, who has been organising festivals in Jamaica since 1974 to showcase local culture in film, said she holds in her possession a collection of more than 200 reggae films which were either exhibited from 2008 to 2013 in the International Reggae Film Festival (in which she plays the role of coordinator) or were submitted for viewing to be included in the festival screening.
In addition to films from or for the festival, she shared that there are also five-minute films from the annual Make A Film In 24 Hours competition made by creatives, from film-makers to animators, with no budget.
However, in her examination of the present Jamaican film industry, she told The Gleaner, “We seem unable to make feature-length films, including documentaries, that can enter the mainstream film market where money can be made. Ninety-nine per cent of reggae films are by non-Jamaicans, when we have all the material and artistes here working non-stop all the time,” she said. “This effort needs to be encouraged and supported properly if Jamaica is really interested in become a film nation.”
For the past two years, there was a great demand by film-makers to include their work in the Reggae Month’s Reggae Films in the Park series, particularly productions that have chronicled the relationship between reggae and Jamaica’s history and, inevitably, our African heritage. This year would have also marked the third year of the series had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic and crowd-gathering restrictions. It resulted in several Reggae Month activities going virtual and the showing of films which took place at the Emancipation Park being put on pause, hence the call for another platform to showcase similar productions.
In the recent Gleaner Reggae Month Forum, the film-maker and film festival organiser coordinator shared a suggestion made to her that Jamaica’s film practitioners should get their films on the popular subscription-based streaming service Netflix, as it is not a difficult venture.
She said, “Sure, it’s not difficult; Storm Saulter’s Sprinter is on Netflix, but I don’t see The Harder They Come and others. Also, Netflix has hundreds of films – Africa, India, films from all over the world are represented, but there is a lot of competition. So, why don’t we have a specific space of our own to go and see those films?”
SMOOTH ROAD TO JAMAICA, CARIBBEAN
Expanding on the comment made during the forum, Blake Hannah proposed that there needs to be a portal, a sort of ‘through road’, where Jamaican-made films, which acts as a vehicle for our culture to the world, can travel smoothly.
“We could create a ‘Caribbean Netflix’ with the many Caribbean films that are shown at all the film festivals taking place in the Caribbean. Trinidad showcases the best, and there is also the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, held annually in Toronto. All these are enough material for us to set up such a digital space that can grow as our industries develop, and why not? Netflix is showing more foreign films these days, as US culture goes into decline. The opening is there for us to fill. Truth is, it isn’t the only streaming service, but Netflix doesn’t want all 300 of our locally produced films, so we can set up a place [of] our own, [a] source of income, where we can go and view on our own terms,” said Blake Hannah about the potential of developing a platform.
There have been several major industry players investing in the local film industry since the 1970s to the 1980s, dubbed one of the most interesting decades of Jamaica’s film productions.
“A lot of good work has been done to train film workers in every category, beginning with what was learned by those who got jobs in the US films made here in the ‘80s. Nigeria and India do this with Nollywood and Bollywood. Chris Blackwell tried to do this with the films he has financed, and Storm Saulter and Chris Browne are still trying, but for some reason, we don’t make it. I think we need scriptwriters who want to go outside the boundaries – there are so many stories yet to be told.”
Over the years, financial support of up to $500,000 has been given to selected content creators by the Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA) and their partners to make five-minute films, which is good for training, but all that money could be pooled into making one good feature film or feature documentary each year that would put Jamaica on the major film festival circuits said, Blake Hannah.
“The overwhelming number of films about reggae not only preserve our culture for posterity, but share it widely and explain it, also. This is how Jamaica’s culture in history, music and religion has been shared around the world, [with] people who got interested from hearing the music and wanting to know more about the people, country and culture that make it. The Reggae Film Festival has potential for international attention and tourism. I am glad to have that among my life accomplishments and dearly hope one day it achieves its objective,” she said about contributing to, passing on and preserving the legacy of film in Jamaica.
Barbara Blake Hannah shares 10 must-watch Jamaican films
1. The Harder They Come
3. Smile Orange
4. One Love
6. No Place Like Home
7. Entry Denied
8. Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica
9. Ruff’N Tuff: Founders of the Immortal Riddim
10. Rasta: A Soul Journey