This August BFI Southbank celebrates Reggae music and culture and explores its relationship to Cinema with a month-long season – From Jamaica To The World: Reggae On Film. Programmed by Lloyd Bradley, writer of Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King and Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital, the season coincides with 60 years of Jamaican independence from Great Britain, a period in which the new nation remade itself culturally and creatively as well as politically.
The season covers all aspects of that culture, as depicted in films such as Bob Marley: The Making Of A Legend (Esther Anderson, 2011) Burning An Illusion (Menelik Shabazz, 1981), Sprinter (Storm Saulter, 2018), Dancehall Queen (Don Letts, Rick Elgood, 1997), Rudeboy: The Story Of Trojan Records (Nicolas Jack Davies, 2018) and many more. The season is presented by African Odysseys, which programs monthly events at BFI Southbank, as well as larger seasons and celebrations of work by and about the African diaspora, and is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2022.
A major highlight of the season will be the screening of Bob Marley: The Making Of A Legend (2011), a fascinating documentary mostly comprised of photos and footage shot before the Wailers had any taste of success. Director Esther Anderson, who will take part in a Q&A following the screening on 30 August alongside co-director Gian Godoy, gained intimate access to Bob Marley and his circle, allowing her to observe and discuss their approach to their music.
Another highlight will be the BFI Distribution 50th anniversary re-release of classic crime drama The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1972), in selected cinemas UK-wide and on BFI Player from 5 August. Jimmy Cliff brings a knockout soundtrack and charisma aplenty to a film that needs no introduction to anyone with the slightest interest in reggae or Jamaican culture. Besides its credentials as an explosive action thriller with a killer soundtrack, it is universally credited with introducing reggae and the roots movement to the world as a serious cultural proposition.
Perry Henzell’s unfiltered portrait of Jamaica’s music industry, the emerging Rasta faith and how so many Jamaicans lived, both in the town and the country, redefined a genre of music, giving it context and weight. Five decades on, that excitement and sense of discovery remain undimmed.
The film will screen on extended run at BFI Southbank during the season and a screening on 5 August will be introduced by season curator Lloyd Bradley. Henzell’s only directorial feature No Place Like Home: Redux (2006) will also screen during the season and be available on BFI Player. In it, the star of a US shampoo advert goes missing during the Jamaica-based shoot; the ad’s producer sets out to find her with the help of a charming local fixer, leading to an unlikely romance. This is a part-love story, part-love letter to the island’s natural beauty, featuring an iconic cast of Susan O’Meara, Carl Bradshaw, Countryman and Grace Jones.
Further fascinating music documentaries screening in the season will include Rudeboy: The Story Of Trojan Records (Nicolas Jack Davies, 2018), about the legendary UK music label. Shot in Jamaica and the UK, and blending contemporary interviews with rare archive footage, Rudeboy tells the story of reggae’s early international development and how the music crossed from Jamaicans-in-Britain’s blues dances and shebeens to forge a lasting relationship with the country’s working-class youth.
One third of the Wailin’ Wailers and a solo star in his own right, Peter Tosh was one of roots reggae’s most ferociously militant artists, whose story is told in Steppin’ Razor: Red X (Nicholas Campbell, 1992). Never one to shy away from confrontation, his head-on approach to the Jamaican government earned him several beatings and convinced him he was under constant surveillance. This documentary draws on the audio diaries he kept, up to the day when gunmen broke into his house and ended his life.