Screening at the BFI – Review

The first public screening of the film Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend took place on the 19th of March at the BFI Southbank as a part of the African Odysseys strand, a 6-month long festival curated by David Somerset which gathers screenings in relation to the experiences of the people of Africa and the African diaspora. The event was a great success, the NFT1 of the British Film Institute was packed, the Q&A showed the enthusiasm of the audience and allowed the directors and curator to clarify several points.

The NFT1 of the BFI packed for the event

The preview showed a work-in-progress project. The idea behind the project has been in the directors’ mind for many years but the will of turning it into a movie is recent. It was triggered when Esther Anderson recovered the footage she shot with Bob Marley in Jamaica in the early 1970s. As she got the lost tapes back, she and her partner Gian Godoy felt that they had to use this opportunity to tell the story of Reggae and Rasta through her point of view. At the moment, the movie consists of several sequences of historical archive footage, the lost tapes, and footage from a recent trip to Jamaica. Plus some awesome Reggae tunes as a music soundtrack. As I write these lines, the old tapes are being cleaned up and Esther’s narrative is being added to string the sequences together.

Esther Anderson is a particularly relevant character to tell such a story. She was born and raised in Jamaica but she was also exposed from a very young age to the Western World as she pursued a succesful acting career in London and Hollywood. She is a photographer, she acted and directed, she was part of Island Records at its birth, she knew Bob Marley before he became famous, she is a Rasta and now lives between London, Cornwall and Paris. Her cosmopolitan origin and life taught her about the importance of communities, in this case it is the Rasta one.

Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend is between a life story and a cultural documentary. You can listen to speeches by Marcus Garvey and Emperor Haile Selassie I as well as see Esther and Bob enjoying the beauty of their native island. But the directors would possibly argue that the story they are telling is about the Rastafarian culture rather than her times with Bob. As she said in the Q&A: “It seems that people want to know how these tapes were found and brought back. Everybody is focusing on that. But anyway, they will get that story but they will get the rest also.”

Marcus Garvey

Indeed, this project is exposing Bob Marley in another light. He is undeniably a major figure of reggae and music but he is here seen along with others “who were an essential part in the developement of Reggae and Rasta as a movement”. Following the same line, there are Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie I, Countryman or the Wailers. They all play a role in the Rasta story in their own way. To get the full picture, it is crucial to observe various ways of being part of the movement. Bob Marley tends to be more powerful for many because he was a musician writing powerful songs for the people about the Rasta cause. Although he spread a true Rasta message, one has to bear in mind that he lived in Babylon. On the other hand, there is Countryman who chose to live the natural life as a fisherman, away from Babylon. Both are Rastas in their own rights, both have their way of resistance. Gian Godoy clearly stated at the BFI that it was “a movement of protest which has now been taken over by a commercial approach of the discourse about human nature”. For that reason, the directors are trying to rescue few original elements from the Rasta history through Esther’s experiences in order to bring them back into the community to strengthen them. It is a way “to bring together and construct communities rather than destroy them”. They claim it themselves: “By going back to the sources which Esther was part of, we traced back and pointed out where it went wrong, why a music which was speaking on behalf of the people suddenly began speaking on behalf of corporations.”

The aim of the film is to show the community which is defined by the Rastafarian culture. It is also showing Bob Marley as a human being in the social context of his community. It goes against the common image of him as a musician smoking weed, who is sometimes said to be a prophet which, I think, just allowed others to turn him into a commodity. Hopefully the message will get through for the good of this community as much as all the other ones.

The directors Esther Anderson and Gian Godoy on the left, with the BFI curator David Somerset

Here follows some selected interventions from the Q&A. The recording was pretty poor, apologies for not providing a full transcript of it.

Esther Anderson:
Hopefully the movie is going to go to everybody who loves our music and the Rastafarian culture. It is basically about where the music really came from, what really stimulated us. Show the marriage between the music itself that had been sitting in Jamaica for more than ten years before it was actually married with the Rastas, this people who actually had no voice.
It seems to me that when you get millions hits on the internet from Ron’s interview, that people want to know how these tapes were found and brought back, everybody is focusing on that. Anyway, they will get that story but they will get the rest also.
Bob Asked me for help, and I did all of it because i thought that he could be the voice for us, the Jamaican people.

Gian Godoy:
We started to chart that territory based on Esther’s source. It consisted of going to the places that had been essential in the creation of that cultural movement which was a movement of protest. My take on this is that movement of protest has been taken over by a commercial approach of the discourse about human nature. And so, by going back to the sources which she was part of, we traced back and pointed out where it went wrong. Why a music which was speaking on behalf of the people suddenly began speaking on behalf of the corporations.
Many of the people who are still alive and who were essential part of the developement of the reggae and Rasta as a movement remain there. Like Countryman, like Mother Macky and her family. They are heroes. Countryman for instance is a very important part of reggae and Rasta, as much as the contribution of Bongo Macky and his sons with their Rastaman Chants. There are few elements that you can rescue and bring back to the community. Maybe even merge them with it with a bit of hope. In order to tell a story that will bring together and construct communities instead of destroy them.
Writing a song is important as long as you are close to the source. In the film, you can see Esther’s extraordinary energy and her passion that has remained with her all these years. It is like a piece of rope, you can follow it even without cash. So we said, let’s do that.

Welcome Sister Esther,
I was in Jamaica at that time. Reggae was coming on the top fo the stage, the atmosphere was terrific, Michael Manley was doing his campaign. You are showing what this music was about, it was about that kind of pressure on us, the violence on the people.
I don’t know exactly what happened at Marley’s house, I don’t know what happen inside at Hope Road when their was a shoot-out and I need information, I need knowledge, I need to teach my children and grand-children so they can define themselves and start the world. They need to know who are my own people, who is Marcus Garvey, what battle they fought 250 years ago and the ones until now. So we can become a strong community. This is the kind of culture production that we need to form the lines of the young people who lost contact with our history. No wonder why now they find themselves shooting and stabbing each other. Show them what they are connected to and stabilize them. Thank you for your efforts.

Other guest:
The film started with you referencing slavery, Claude McKay, Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie and then coming to Bob. And talking about protest and linking it to Reggae music. I was wondering who you might suggest as the air of that lineage as I would call it?

Air? I hope that all the people, everybody related with Jamaica will be interested. It is in our blood, it is in our vein. Haile Selassie speech was very important and must be the kind of thing that must remain. That is why I put it at the end of the movie.

All pictures are screenshots from the movie and the quotes from the Question&Answer that took place after the screening.

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