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Top 5 Jamaican films

Published:Saturday | November 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Members of the cast of Trevor Rhone's comedy, 'Smile Orange', in 1972. They were Georgetown-bound to participate in the first Caribbean and Latin American Festival of Creative Arts. The group includes members of the original cast, as well as replacements and understudies.
Ringo (Carl Bradshaw, left) and Joe (Stan Irons) go through their paces at the 100th celebration performance of Trevor Rhone's hit play 'Smile Orange' at the Barn Theatre in 1972.
'Countryman' (left), a Jamaican fisherman, is the centre of attraction at the premiere of the film of the same name in 1982. - File photos
Jimmy Cliff in the cult classic, 'The Harder They Come', which captures the often stifled dreams of aspiring entertainers.

Andrew Robinson, Gleaner Writer

With the release of Storm Saulter's latest production, Better Mus' Come, I'm left to roll back the curtains to those few films that have been produced about and by Jamaicans.

So here are my top-five Jamaican films.

5. Countryman (1982)

Directed by Dickie Jobson

After a small plane crashes in the swamp, Countryman quickly runs to rescue the couple that were flying in it. The countryman keeps the injured man and woman safe in a cay hidden from the police who are searching for them after conjuring up a tale of how they were smuggling weapons for the opposing party.

The film's star is a bona fide countryman and a fisherman who is a believer in the elements and possesses magical powers.

There were points in this film which reeked of exploitation cinema. The movie has moments that are hilarious but overall runs with its own joke about the all-powerful Rasta.

The themes of nature and mystical powers run deep, but there are times when I have to ask if this is the kind of movie I would want foreigners to see. Throughout the film, I had to pick myself up off the ground from laughing, but many of the scenes might be taken as evidence by the most ignorant foreigner that all Jamaicans think that they can control the weather.

4. Rockers (1978)

Directed by Ted Bafaloukos

Horsemouth (Leroy Wallace) is a poor drummer who's always looking for a way to hustle some extra dollars into his pocket. He decides to take the plunge and call in all loans he has out and buy himself a bike so that he can work for record producers.

We follow Horsemouth as he continues to try to enjoy life and not worry too much.

What this movie has that many others don't is a carefree persona. It never feels like it takes itself too seriously. There's even a point where Horsemouth has his bike, which cost him more than we imagine he'd ever had in his hand at any one time, stolen, and we see him just walk away nonchalantly. So later, when we see him stress revenge so bluntly, it's kind of odd.

However, this movie has a fantastic soundtrack that represents the great music of Jamaica. The soundtrack includes songs from artistes like the late Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, The Heptones and Peter Tosh. The vibe is enough to coast this movie into the cool fourth place on the list.

3. Smile Orange (1976)

Directed by Trevor Rhone

It's a comedy set in a hotel as we follow Ringo (Carl Bradshaw) as he tries to joke his way through his work shift. All he wants is to make it through the day on top without losing his job, and quite possibly some time alone with the new lady at the hotel.

The film is based on the classic play that I had to read as a high-school student. I've seen it onstage numerous times, but I have to admit that the first time I ever heard of this story was when I saw it on television. I absolutely fell in love with it.

From moments like seeing Ringo complain about accidentally rubbing up against 'cow itch' on his way to work in the morning to trying to rig the crab game on the hotel grounds is comedic, cinematic gold.

2. The Harder They Come (1972)

Directed by Perry Henzell

Ivan comes to the city with hopes of becoming a big thing. He wants to be a musician, but he gets a rude awakening of how difficult achieving something like that can be. He gets distracted with the violence and drug-stained city life while trying to make a living and ends up becoming Jamaica's most-wanted criminal.

With a great performance from Jimmy Cliff, the famed reggae singer, the film shines as an example that I hope all Jamaican films look to. It's a classic anti-hero story set in a world of shady deals and illegal activities.

However, even though we - as an audience - refuse to condone Ivan's actions, we always seem to root for him, which is the sign of a great film of this genre. It reminds me of a lot of American mobster films, including the famous Scarface, where we follow the rise of an infamous character and watch him find his peak and then his eventual demise in his world. It's the film that makes me hold out hope that Jamaican cinema can be great.

1. Life + Debt (2001)

Directed by Stephanie Black

Jamaica is a small nation that depends on a lot of other nations for its survival through imports and exports. The documentary discusses the effects of globalisation on Jamaica's economy and social landscape. It discusses the workings of the International Monetary Fund and how the multinational lender played a part in the ruination of the island.

This is one of those rare cases where I found myself interested in the film, even though it was filled with facts that I already knew. The perspectives the film projected were what made it particularly special.

For those people out there who only see Jamaica as a touristy paradise, who come to soak up the sun and fun and then quickly head back home, this talking-heads documentary unveils the shocking truth. It looks at how Jamaica's farming industry has been devastated by the constant lobbying for globalisation and the open market. Jamaica has been forced to compete in a market it was never prepared for.

If there happens to be anyone out there who has no idea about Jamaica's sufferings as an economic victim, he/she needs to watch this movie and learn something about the real world.

So, will 'Better Mus' Come' break into the top five in the future? Shoot off your ideas to