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'I did it my way'

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Sadeke Brooks, Staff Reporter

After leading what would be described as a full life, filmmaker Barbara Blake-Hannah said there is nothing she would do differently because she had done everything her way.

"I feel quite content 'cause I have done everything I've wanted to do. I did it my way. I chose my life and I am satisfied that I lived it to my specifications," said the 68-year-old Rastafarian woman.

Throughout her lifetime, Blake-Hannah has worn several caps. She attended Hampton High School and Wolmer's High School For Girls, before working as a secretary in a public-relations department.

It was during that time Blake-Hannah got a call from Beverley Anderson-Manley, who asked her if she wanted to be an extra on a film since she spoke Spanish. After that, the film's directors asked her if she wanted to go to England with them, and she jumped at the opportunity.

This opened many doors, as while there, she got another PR job and did an exam at the Institute of Public Relations. Later on, she got a job as an on-air reporter interviewer at Thames Television.

"I was the first black journalist on British television. That job got me in every British newspaper," she told
The Sunday Gleaner
, saying that she later worked on BBC radio and television and ATV Birmingham.

After spending eight years in England, Blake-Hannah was asked by Chris Blackwell to do PR work for the 1972 film
The Harder They Come

"It was just incredible.
The Harder They Come
made me into a Jamaican. It made me want to be a Rasta. I came back to become a Rasta, literally," she said, pointing out that in that same year, she became a journalist, working at
Jamaica Daily News

After a visit to Hollywood in 1974, she decided that she would do a film festival. In the same year, she hosted the festival but was unable to continue with it the following year. Not giving up on her idea, Blake-Hannah started the Reggae Film Festival in 2008. This year's staging of the festival will be held at the Hilton Kingston hotel from February 25-27.

By 1975, she was invited by the Cubans to help them put on a film week. She was also invited by a Jewish friend to their festival in Iraq, where she got the opportunity to meet Saddam Hussein.

Blake-Hannah has worked in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on three different occasions. The proud Rastafarian also credits herself as being the first and only female independent Rastafarian to sit in Parliament as a senator. And, 10 years ago, she was invited to the World Conference on Racism, which was held in South Africa.

Blake-Hannah also served for some time as the PR director for the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation. And, by 1981, she had written five articles about Rastafari that were published in
. She said the articles did so well that she won an award from the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ).

Due to the success from this, "I sold my typewriter and went to New York to turn those articles into a book," she told
The Sunday Gleaner
. She self-published the book
Rastafari: The New Creation
, and then did five subsequent editions. She also wrote
Home-schooling: Barbara Blake-Hannah's Story
. And, she will be publishing another one,
Growing Out
, later this year.

Eventually, Blake-Hannah found love and got married, giving birth to her son, Makonnen, in 1985.

Child first

"Once I had my son, I didn't really take a full-time job. I was a stay-at-home, self-employed mother. I always put my child first," she told
The Sunday Gleaner.

"When Makonnen was four years old, that was when Olivia 'Babsy' Grange gave me a job, and I only took it because she said I could take my child along with me. Having him was lots of fun."

This precious son has only made her proud, as he served as the youth technology consultant to the minister of technology from 1998 to 2001. And, he has had many other credits to his name. Now, he runs MultiCast Entertainment.

Fast-track to the present. Blake-Hannah now operates her own company, Jamaica Media Productions Limited, and she is the chairperson for the Reggae Film Festival and head of the Jamaica Film Academy.

In between her writing, she also did films like
The Peaceful Gun
Race Rhetoric Rastafari
By The Land We Live
, two
Kids Paradise
Joseph: A Rasta Reggae Fable
(first written as a novel) and
The Road Through the Blue Mountains

The creative industries, especially films, are now very dear to her heart. But, "there needs to be more support for the writers and filmmakers. I'd like to see more support for our indigenous creative industries," she said.

"We don't appreciate what we have. They would rather have a press conference to say that Tom Cruise is here."

Nonetheless, Blake-Hannah loves her country.

"Jah really mek yah fi true. I wish we would realise it. Politics is the worst thing that ever happened in Jamaica. It's time for us to have one people. Jamaica is the pearl, the diamond of the world. Everybody wants to come to Jamaica. Why can't we see how valuable it is?"