To mark the 40th anniversary release of the seminal Jamaica reggae film Rocker, the Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF) held a special showing last week at the downtown Toronto Royal Cinema. The screening of the remastered feature film is precursor for the CTFF 15-day movie fete which begins on September 5th.
In 1978 when the Reggae musical movement was just getting noticed, the musicians of Trench Town were still scrambling for money, bookings and recording contracts. Survival meant playing as many gigs as possible, promoting records from the backs of their motorcycles and living off the generosity of their wives, lovers and families.
Rockers, a bargain basement movie that was made for just $4,000 US ($500,000 JA), took the Caribbean and ultimately North America and the UK by storm when released in 1978. A reworking of the legend of Robin Hood, Rocker has good Rastas robbing from bad mafia and givinh back to the people of Trench Town. Burning Spear drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace stars the Rasta Robin Hood. His merry men are played by Jamaican music legends, including Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Gregory, “Jah Tooth” Isaacs, Robbie “Robbie” Shakespeare, Manley “Big Youth” Buchanan, and Lester “Dillinger” Bullocks.
Horsemouth is dirt poor. He and his wife have trouble buying food for their three kids, even as he scrambles to drum at recording sessions, tourist hotels and rundown clubs. As Rocker opens he is setting himself up in business selling records from his red motorcycle (decorated with the Lion of Judah). When gangsters steal his bike it gets nasty, Horsemouth and his “dread” friends plot to end the gangsters’ reign of terror and restore justice to the people of Kingston!
Made in just two weeks, Rockers was originally meant to be a documentary on the birth of Reggae. However, the film morphed into a feature film with the actors adlibbing their lines and inventing plot scenes as the cameras rolled. No one was paid, but all of the musicians and actors were happy to have a chance to tell their story to the world.
“I was young and stupid. I just wanted the excitement, wasn’t thinking about money. All I was thinking about is this Rasta culture to spread all over the world. Spread the gospel and the works,” recalls Horsemouth in a 2014 interview with the online Jamaica music Magazine United Reggae. “You see me do that walk there (in the movie)? Yeah! John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Tony Curtis, those guys, Western guys they put that swing into their walk so I picked it up that from them.”
Caribbean Tales worked with Royal Stompbox (the theatre’s music movie club) and the online radio station Roots Reggae Hub to bring the remastered movie to Toronto for the 40th anniversary showing. Roots Reggae Hub curated a live performance with early days Reggae singer Carol Brown, DJ Lady Sharon, singer Johnny Schorchy, and DJ English Dala to talk and perform.
The theatre was half-full for the late July Rocker screening in Toronto. And while the live Reggae programming was well received by the Caribbean Tales audience it didn’t sit well for the Royal Stompbox Canadian audience. Just after one singer’s performance, a loud voice shouted an expletive filled call to start the movie!
Note: Rockers is the second feature film that the annual Caribbean Tales International Film Festival has shown at the Royal Cinema in the run-up to the official launch of the 13th annual film fest.
Associate Festival Director Diana Webley told the Caribbean Camera “our festival theme this year is ‘Light it up’. It's a call to action. A call to arms. A call to change. A call that’s been ringing out for a long time. And now Caribbean filmmakers are answering that call in force. To focus this global appeal beyond our Canadian experience, we are asking our filmmakers to shine their lights on all the changes in the world, to showcase their vision of change and to spread their message and lead the way.”
Between September 5th and 20th ten films including a Special Preview Screening of HERO - Inspired by The Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric Cross. It stars Nickolai Salcedo, Peter Williams (Stargate SG1), Joseph Marcell (Fresh Prince of Belair) and Ghana's John Dumelo. The film festival founder Frances-Anne Solomon directs the film.