DVD reviews (July/August 2008)

Reviews of some new Caribbean DVDs

The Insatiable Season: Making Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago directed by Mariel Brown. Photograph courtesy Savant Ltd

Out of Africa

In 2005, to celebrate what would have been Bob Marley’s 60th birthday, his widow, Rita Marley, and several of Marley’s offspring staged a gala concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in celebration of the iconic reggae singer’s commitment to African unity. In addition to the concert, a week of Unicef-sponsored workshops, discussions and debates took place, in which delegates such as actor and human-rights activist Danny Glover and controversial Jamaican politician Dudley Thompson contemplated what it means to be an African descendant outside Africa. Young people from all over the continent also gathered to discuss their own roles in Africa’s future.

Africa Unite: A Celebration of Bob Marley’s Vision is Stephanie Black’s documentary of the event. Black has already given us the hard-hitting Life and Debt, which explores the destructive impact of the IMF and the World Bank in Jamaica, and H-2 Worker, which exposed the unbelievably exploitative situation facing Jamaican sugarcane cutters in Florida. In Africa Unite, she makes efforts to keep a political-activist focus intact, which is difficult, because much of the movie is devoted to bland concert footage. But the film’s most heartening bits come in testimony from the young Africans who will themselves make up Africa’s next generation of leaders. Also captivating is the sub-plot provided by Bongo Tawney, a poor, elder Rasta who travels to Ethiopia for the first time and who is visibly moved by what he encounters there.

On the downside, the film is generally disjointed. It is sometimes difficult to get a sense of how the events unfolded, and of the exact significance of each segment, as there is so much concert footage interspersed. The concert footage itself does not translate particularly well to the small screen; you probably had to be there to understand the magnitude of the concert, which lasted 12 hours and drew over 350,000 people. And no disrespect to Marley’s children, but every time I’ve seen them live, I wish they would leave their father’s work alone and concentrate on their own talents. But needless to say, as this concert was in celebration of Daddy’s birthday, every one of the Marley boys presents a classic number from the 70s, and for some reason, each feels the need to remain on stage for the entirety of his siblings’ performances, which only adds to the dragging sense of what features here.

The bonus concert footage fares little better than that on the main DVD, though a duet by Rita and Marley’s mother is kind of sweet. In contrast, there are illuminating, though brief, interviews with Rita Marley and several of Bob’s sons, giving some context to the proceedings in terms of their own views on Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. In summary, although it’s hardly essential viewing overall, Marley fans will probably find something of interest.

Africa Unite: A Celebration of Bob Marley’s Vision, directed by Stephanie Black
Palm Pictures DVD

David Katz

 


Not enough Insatiable

The “new” documentary film from Trinidadian filmmaker Mariel Brown, The Insatiable Season: Making Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, almost has a longer name than runtime (52 minutes). Brown, perhaps better known as the ebullient presenter of her own television cooking programme, Sancoche, comes from impeccable artistic stock: her father, Wayne Brown, all but invented the literary newspaper column in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 70s. The presumption, therefore, is that her artistic judgments are sound; if not for that, one might be tempted to criticise her for not producing a longer work—as, seemingly, she easily could have.

Insatiable was culled largely from the material shot for the 2006 six-episode, 210-minute TV6 series focused on Carnival bandleader Brian MacFarlane. Length was deliberately sacrificed, Brown said, to maintain pacing and, though that was indubitably achieved, it might have been one of those cases where the operation was a success but the patient died—except that what remains is unassailably cogent and thoroughly watchable.

If the main criticism of your first film is that it should have been longer, you’ve not done too badly. All 52 minutes are absorbing, and it is better to leave your viewer wanting more than feeling they’ve had enough halfway through. Content decisions were entirely in the hands of the filmmaker. Brown has said she considered doing additional interviews after Carnival, but deliberately decided against them, because she wanted to maintain the excitement of making mas [costumes] during Carnival and because she deliberately wanted to shift the focus from MacFarlane to mas itself. It is perfectly understandable as an explanation—but still leaves the viewer, well, not quite sated.

Those familiar with the original TV6 series might wish that, instead of making a new film out of the same material, Brown had been content with a straight burn of the entire season to DVD, with those elusive, post-Carnival interviews and reflections being included as extra material. But however the individual reviewer might look at it, the massed audience of the second Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (2007) found nothing to moan about: Insatiable won the People’s Choice Best Documentary Award.

The Insatiable Season: Making Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago
directed by Mariel Brown
Savant Ltd

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