Thursday, September 19, 2013

Kingston Paradise in Toronto.

St. Jago de la Vega and Kingston had not yet met in their prophesized sprawling merger. Growing up in Jamaica, my cardiology would routinely spike on the commute between bucolic and bustle. To the extent that even now, there's nothing better for my heart than a hit of citypulse.
My latest sortie saw me emerge from a summers-end Muskoka sequestration. A few probing enquiries, and I headed for Hogtown's TIFF 2013. In this era we're still speaking about that cavalcade of prestigious cinematic unveilings, and the familiar frenzy of the red carpet.

But now, also, parallel fledgling festivals aligned with it.

The Caribbean Tales Film Festival occurs on the fringes of this frisson. The timing is advantageous to showcase the maturing output of Caribbean related filmwork, adding its own diasporic glam to the scene with contiguous scheduling and spicy spectacle. Shorts, docs, features, workshops and symposia.

TIFF Artistic Director, media-master, mogul, mullah Cameron Bailey, himself of Barbadian heritage, makes a natural patron and ally for the eight year-old CTFF, incepted and run by Frances-Anne Solomon, a proud Trinidadian film-maker.

Having missed sold-out TIFF screenings of Steve McQueen's acclaimed "12 Years a Slave," which ended up a clear winner of the top accolades, I had to re-focus. I was drawn out by a desire to see how my Jamaican friend, Mary Wells fared with her movie "Kingston Paradise," making its world premiere.

Five years prior we had pored over early footage as she shaped a working edit. At the time, final cut seemed ... remote.

In the tradition of Damian Marley's anthemic song "Welcome To Jamrock," Mary's cinema verité visuals of this island paradise bely the Iberostar propaganda of Tourist Board commercials.

And make no mistake, this isn't gratuitous invitation to indulge in ghetto-voyeurism or re-hash Jamaican political tribalism.

At core, this is about a couple's struggle for self-betterment. A capitalist's dream in a setting where there's little capital to go 'round. Driving taxi in this town requires more than a hackney permit. Chris "Johnny" Daley energetically portrays Rocksy. He hustles condoms and phone-cards but is readily seduced by a Syrian businessman's conspicuously crisp Mitsubishi Evolution.

Hollywood might've required a grand heist, but JAH-llywood finds gold in a petty auto-thief, complete with bumbling sidekick.

Camille Small, as Rosie, is Rocksy's main squeeze, complicit in methodology but not end-game. She's an art-lover and supporter of "woman work" who is not deferential to agressive testosterone. Unlike some of her predecessors in Jamaican cinema, Camille manages to infuse Rosie's pulchritude with an eloquent subtlety.

Everyone's heard of Trenchtown. Well, there are several comparable "garrisons" on the Kingston city grid. Mary credits gratitude to the people of Southside, which is in East Kingston.
Here, shambles of a once-grand downtown show systemic neglect, and every available space is adapted to accomodate the population therein. Supporting players are shrewdly utilised to rivetingly depict the day-to-day business of survival.

In the mechanics yard, gappy Clovie ("I thief but I never go jail") and pretty-boy Maltado deserve mention. So too does the ambiguous, dare I say, androgeny of the marginal players. During a prolonged de rigeur cop chase sequence one delivers, sans dialogue, haven for our hero, and the other nails what may be the most stylish onscreen come-uppance I can remember.

Wisely, Mary avoids padding the dialogue with cliche epithets and common themology. My Spidey-sense is that there was imput from her actors to this end. The result is believable dialogue which, of necessity, benefits from subtitling in service of the colloquial narrative. This allows the viewer to digest the all-consuming socio-economic reality at his/her own pace.

In Kingston, there's no avoiding this.
Perry Henzell's "The Harder They Come" (1972) will always serve as a blueprint. To this day THTC one-line take-aways pepper popular culture. Kingston Paradise has its share of those too, with at least one standout deadpan delivery certain to mash up movie-houses from Kingston to Toronto
Then of course there's the music. Award winning composer John Welsman, an honorary Caribbean if there ever was one, dials up the decibels. Combining original score and contemporary vocal tracks, this Canadian demonstrates a clear understanding of Jamaica's bass imperative.

The first thing Mary asked me after the well-received screening, which led to the all-important CTFF 2013 audience choice award, was - what do I think of the film's commercial prospects?

Well, after driving around Kingston with her, not too long ago, I do know she could use a new car.

I predict here and now, she won't have to steal one.

1 comment :

  1. I have not seen the movie (I think it's very good if you carefully observed), but reading I can not stop smile.
    It is very similar to what happens in Bucharest and in my country. Are you sure it's not Romanian film?! :)


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