7th Annual Cinema Paradise Film Festival - August 2017
Thursday, August 17th, 2017
Taking a step away from business as usual, Great Huts opened up its annual Film Festival with a VIP event – for members of the media, the international film community and fans – at the Hope Zoo’s open-air Serengeti theatre in Kingston, Jamaica. Taking Cinema Paradise “on the road” was a further reflection of Great Huts’ mission: to connect Jamaica’s citizens and visitors to the natural beauty and cultural history of the island. This made featuring Rasta: A Soul's Journey an easy choice for this year’s premiere. Written by Stuart Samuels (who recently co-directed The Beatles’ documentary 8 Days a Week with Ron Howard), the film follows Bob Marley’s granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast, on a three-year trip through eight countries to discover how various communities interpret and practice Rastafari in everyday life.
This stirring odyssey sways between tears and fits of playground laughter, as Prendergast works through her understanding of why her grandfather, still a Rastafari cultural leader 35+ years after his passing, has inspired so many to commit to a life of peace, dedication to community, and morality. The film begins in Ethiopia, home of Emporer Haile Selassie, the messiah of the Rastafari belief system who is regarded either as God or the second coming of Christ by many, and ends in Kingston at the Bob Marley Museum — a symbolic echo of the Jamaican people’s passage from enslavement in their homeland to numerous communities across the world. The film’s screening reminded Cinema Paradise producers and Great Huts’ staff of their identity, as both an eco-resort that celebrates hospitality and as emissaries of Jamaican pride.
Vivene Levison, Cinema Paradise Director shared her feelings “As a Jamaican who grew up in Clarendon, I understood true Rastafari values at an early age and feel honoured to be a part of a team that pays tribute to the cultural roots of our island in such a meaningful way. This year’s opening film “Rasta: A Soul’s Journey “ is a captivating film we were happy to support as it resonates with the educational mission of Great Huts, helping audiences find Rastafari’s spiritual meaning in today’s world through Donisha Prendergast and bringing the theme of its many misconceptions to the forefront.” So true!
This was the kick-off event of a project that plans to screen Rasta: A Soul's Journey at community centers and outposts across the island.
Friday, August 18th, 2017
Great Huts Resort, Port Antonio, Jamaica
The following morning, after Blue Mountain coffee and swapping stories at our Kingston hotel, the Great Huts and festival crews travelled for two hours through the Blue Mountains and St. Mary’s Parish to Great Huts’ home on northeastern tip of the Island.
The rest of the festival was underway, with all of the resort’s 21 rooms sold out for the duration! After waiting out a brief seasonal rainstorm, the festival crew transported film and production equipment into Africana House, Great Huts’ luxurious new four-bedroom villa, furnished with a stunning array of local & African period artwork – including wood planks rumored to be from Selassie’s Ethiopian castle – and a grand lobby and screening room that overlook a swimming pool and the Caribbean coast. Café Africa, an authentic Ethiopian restaurant in Kingston, catered the affair to set the tone…and it was delicious! The sold out audience included Stuart Samuels, Prod/Dir/Writer of RasTa: A Soul’s Journey who advised "Attending the Cinema Paradise Film Festival at Great Huts in Port Antonio, was so special-a magical setting, a beautifully created space with unique art, with people committed to sharing their beliefs and films in a totally supportive environment. No place, no event like it. Special! Otherworldly! " after the screening of Shashamane.
The film traces the origin and creation of Shashamane, a land grant in Ethiopia offered to the Rastafri people by Emperor Halie Selassie in 1948, and its importance to the black diaspora. While the movement has failed to reach a critical mass, the land grant remains intact (with limited citizen rights), accessible for people with African roots from around the globe. The screening was another bracing celebration of the Jamaican people’s connection to their homeland, its role in celebrating the Rastafari & Jamaican communities, and its role in helping to determine the future of the world’s people with African heritage. Afterwards, guests enjoyed swimming, engaged in a Q&A and discussions with cultural ambassadors of Shashamane, and retreated to their African-style Caribbean tree huts and bedrooms for the night. Showcasing history and development is natural fit for Great Huts, given our authentic Ethiopian-style housing and beach front amenities.
Saturday, August 19th, 2017
A 5:48 sunrise held the promise of a beautiful day, starting with an 8am yoga class on the deck facing the sea and followed by massages and relaxing by the pool / beach (our guests were on vacation, after all :) Some took a day trip to the Blue Lagoon, Winifred Beach, others headed up the coast for a boat ride or took a half-hour drive to hike Reach Falls. There’s plenty to do in and around town — just ask Anthony Bourdain of CNN’s Parts Unknown, who visited Great Huts and the area in 2014.
The afternoon was bustling, as Kool FM, Cinema Paradise’s media sponsor, set up for a pool party with strawberry daiquiris and pizza. The (typically) sunny day was a celebration of Jamaica past and present, reminding everyone to enjoy life’s many small pleasures: a fairy tale from grandma, jerked wings by the beach, chasing your dreams…our indulging your daydreams. Once the pool party and the day cooled down, guests took their pizza and drinks to the tiered roof to watch three short films, recently featured at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, whose directors were honoured by the Jamaican Film Commision (JFC) for their support of the traditions and talents of Jamaican storytelling. Vibrant JAMPRO Film Commissioner Renee Robinson emceed the evening, and led Q&As with each of the films’ directors: Adrian Lopez (Shock Value), Directed by Michelle Serieux (Sugar) and Kurt Wright (Origins). Many of the films’ crew joined the discussion — including Shantol Jackson , soon to be featured in Idris Elba’s new film as the sole actor of Jamaican descent.
We also screened a short about the partnership between Great Huts and PRM, the Portland Rehabilitation Homeless Shelter. All proceeds from the event, and 10% of all hotel profits, went to PRM. We are so proud of their work. Kudos!
Each of the three featured films highlighted a different element of Jamaican culture. Shock Value was a crime mystery. Sugar followed the eldest of three sisters as she struggled to balance supporting her family with saving for her education, despite her mother’s forceful advice. Origins took creative license in the retelling of some of Jamaica's most beloved childhood stories, including Three Finger Jack. Here were life lessons about the challenge of pursuing your goals within the film community as a minority, how and when to share childhood tales creatively, and how to manage a crew effectively when real-life issues preclude the support of a full crew or budget.
We were thrilled to have such a gathering exceptional artists on site, and the staunch support of the JFC. This night devoted to the cinematic talents and passions of the Jamaican people felt like our very own version of the Oscars. Indeed, as Dr. Paul Rhodes, founder of Great Huts and Cinema Paradise, pointed out, “When we think of Oscars, let’s think of Oscar Micheaux, the father of black cinema.” It was Great Huts’ honor to host the entire day, and a point of pride that our eco-resort sits at the center of such a hearty and dynamic culture.”
Sunday August 20th 2017
We closed out the festival on Sunday with a screening of Bruk Out, which is no ordinary Caribbean flick. This film takes you inside the boisterous realm of the best dancehall performers in the Caribbean (or the world, for that matter): the struggles, pride and rise of this dance sensation that is a critical outlet for the energy and self-esteem of a tiny island that has an outsized influence on world culture. While the weather brought the audience consisting of many locals in the community inside as opposed to the plans for a Boston Beach screening, the high spirits and energy for Dancehall could still be felt miles away!
The last day of the festival was our time to celebrate and reflect. Great Huts is an uncommon resort for guests looking to embrace Jamaica’s natural beauty, but it is a touchstone of cultural pride more than anything else. Cinema Paradise, as directed and produced by Vivene Levison and Dr. Rhodes, is our once-a-year, full-on commitment to empowering cultural ambassadors and filmmakers, while continuing to extol the beauties and virtues of our resort and its island home. While this was our biggest Cinema Paradise to date, we have also reconsecrated it as a festival of and for the Jamaican people and valued visitors by dubbing it anew as The Portie Film Festival, a warm and affectionate nod to the humble, homegrown culture that spawned it and to revive and honour the history of celebrity and film on the picturesque north-eastern coast.
As Renee Robinson, JAMPRO Film Commissioner told the audience at the Opening VIP Launch: “.. Where else to do this, but Port Antonio? Once referred to as the ‘Jamaican Riveria’ in the 1960s, Port Antonio boasts a film legacy and auspicious artistic history that is the envy of other Jamaican towns.” Stay tuned on the Great Huts website and social media pages for our exciting plans for 2018!
A huge thank you to everyone for joining us this weekend, and to all those at home who followed along via social media. I hope everyone appreciated how important this event was to showcasing Jamaican culture, and celebrating those who carry it in their hearts. Thank you all!
All proceeds from this event went to support Portland Rehabilitation Homeless Shelter