Have you ever been so inspired by something that you almost didn't know what to do with yourself? Like, you got filled with this bubbling energy that you just had to pour somewhere, but you didn't have the right vessel? This past Saturday, I made sure to clear my afternoon schedule for something special, and ended up with that exact feeling when I left.
Saturday was the premiere of Better Mus Come - a film written and directed by Storm Saulter, an up and coming Jamaican filmmaker. TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Bell Lightbox, in conjunction with Caribbean Tales put the event together, which included a Caribbean brunch, awards ceremony, and film screening.
I arrived at the amazing TIFF Bell Lightbox venue in time for the awards ceremony, which I'm SO glad I didn't miss. Honoured were Ian Harnarine - Trinidadian-Canadian filmmaker, and Denham Jolly - media entrepreneur and philanthropist responsible for the creation of FLOW 93.5 - Toronto's 1st urban radio station. Mr. Harnarine's story truly impressed me. Born in Canada to Trini parents, he obtained a degree in Physics and Astronomy from U of T, then travelled to Chicago to complete his Masters in Nuclear Physics. Yes, I said a Masters in Nuclear Physics. Then, he seemingly got bored and decided to pick up filmmaking - he enrolled at NYU's Graduate Film School, and now sits on the faculty for both NYU's Physics department and the Graduate Film School. Mr. Harnarine was being honoured for his multi-award-winning short film, Doubles With Slight Pepper, which won Best Canadian Short Film at TIFF 2011. I was floored not only by his obvious intellect, but also by his determination to follow through with his passion for filmmaking. It reminded me of my thoughts on '83 To Infinity: "...the fact that you’re NEVER too old to learn something new, do something new, or be someone new."
Denham Jolly's story also educated me on some Canadian history that I was not previously aware of. Born in Negril, Jamaica, Mr. Jolly moved to Canada and began building his legacy. Property owner, teacher, publisher, entrepreneur, and founder of the Black Business and Professional Association - Mr. Jolly had his hands in many different areas of Toronto. His battle for the creation of an urban radio station in Toronto lasted over a decade and was consistently wrought with obstacle, but her persevered. He finally succeeded in his quest when FLOW 93.5 was born in 2000, and Mr. Jolly became known as the first Black Canadian to receive a radio license. Mr. Jolly accepted his award on Saturday from the Hon. Jean Augustine, and solidified his lifetime achievement with a poignant quote: "It's amazing how lucky you get when you work hard." Ain't that the truth?
Finally, we settled into our seats to watch Better Mus Come. Both the writer/director Storm Saulter, and the lead actor Sheldon Shepherd were in the house - after a short intro by Storm, the movie began and I was instantly transported back to a time that I wasn't even alive for - Kingston, Jamaica, 1978.
If you're unaware of the history of this time, the long and short of it is that Jamaica was in political turmoil. The JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and the PNP (People's National Party) were both clamouring for power of the country, and as Malcolm said, they would do it by any means necessary. Jamaicans were extremely invested in the political process as it stood, but both political parties sought the assistance of street gangs to really drive their campaigns home. The infamous Green Bay Massacre of 1978 was a crucial element of Better Mus Come, but the film was well-rounded with influences of Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come, and the documentary Rockers. Throw in a little Romeo & Juliet action, and you have the makings of an amazing film.
Better Mus Come centres on the life of Ricky (Sheldon Shepherd), head of the JLP's security, and also the don of the local JLP-supporting gang. Raising a young son on his own (his child's mother was killed by PNP gangs), Ricky faces the struggle of doing dirty work in the immediate future in order to secure a better future for him and his son. Ambushing political rallies, shoot-outs at polling stations, and blatant murders of key figures in the community were all part of the game, and Ricky and his crew did what they needed to do to survive. Once he meets Kemala, a "country girl" who is a PNP supporter, things are turned upside down in more ways than one. Love, allegiance to family, dedication to community, and fierce protection of political interests all come together in the tapestry of Ricky's life and the lives of those around him.
So - what did I think of the film? I. Was. In. Awe. The cinematography, the musical score, the authenticity of the wardrobe, slang, and mannerisms, the talent of the actors (most of whom had never acted in a movie before) - it was all too much for me. Maybe I'm just a Jamaicaphile who loves anything to do with 'Yard', but I tried to put that bias aside while watching the film. Even doing so, it STILL came out on top for me. Storm Saulter has an innate mastery with the camera. The way he was able to combine image, light, and sound (or the lack thereof ) totally brought about the emotions that I think we, the viewers, were intended to feel. The raw and rugged acting style from the cast really brought out the history of the time - I could hear older viewers laughing at some of the ol' time slang and commenting on some of the 70's style fashions that they used to wear. At times, the film seemed so authentic that I felt I was watching a documentary of days gone by in the country of my parentage. I couldn't help but feel pride when watching it - yes, much of the history depicted was despicable, but everything from the passion to defend one's rights to the passion of the actors who portrayed these characters spoke to an undeniable Caribbean energy that I love. I think that feeling was amplified (for me, at least) by knowing that Bob Marley's birthday was just around the corner, so it was a timely screening.
After the film, we had a great Q&A session with Storm and Sheldon (who played Ricky). Let me tell you...I had a mini-crush on Sheldon, and I'm not scared to admit it. Charisma was on TEN, and both men had the audience fascinated with the discussion. Sheldon even buss out a quick spoken-word poem that he performed for his audition...and I'll just say this: keep an eye out for Sheldon Shepherd. Remember you heard it from Bee first! Keep an eye out for Storm Saulter as well - this film is CLEARLY the beginning of something huge, not only for him, but for the Caribbean film industry as a whole. We've come a long way from Dancehall Queen, y'all. Storm Saulter is paving the way for a new breed of Caribbean storytellers, and I'm excited to see what's next!
Here is the Better Mus Come trailer:
Special thanks to Ryan Singh Enterprises.
Did you see Better Mus Come? If so, what did you think? What's your favourite Caribbean (or other international) film? Keep up to date with TIFF's schedule for the month of February - Cameron Bailey, co-director of TIFF, mentioned that they'll have some big things on tap for Black History Month! Make sure to check them out!