Jamaica and Film

The beauty of Jamaica cannot be denied. Christopher Columbus called Jamaica the “fairest island” he had ever seen. Pirates became so entranced with the island that they sometimes opted to stay they rather than continue looting. And now, Jamaica’s natural beauty has made it a draw for modern moviemakers.

International moviemakers have been coming to Jamaica since the early 1900s, but only in the 1980s did significant growth occur in the number and type of projects filmed on the island. The island’s varied and versatile landscapes let filmmakers select a seaside location, a jungle environment, or a high mountain view. Even films that have no narrative connection to Jamaica are filmed there. For example, portions of Legends of the Fall (1994), which tells a story of the American West, were filmed in Ocho Rios. For over 50 years, Jamaica has been a shooting location for some of Hollywood’s biggest features, including:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  • No (1962)
  • Live and Let Die (1973)
  • Papillon 1973
  • The Blue Lagoon (1980)
  • Cocktail (1988)
  • Lord of the Flies (1990)
  • Wide Sargasso Sea (1993)
  • Cool Runnings (1993)
  • Legends of the Fall (1994)
  • How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

A location search at the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) provides over 200 listings for Jamaica, including television series, documentaries, and feature films. Arguably the most famous films about Jamaica are the Wide Sargasso Sea, an adaptation of the book by Jean Rhys, and Cool Runnings, which is about the Jamaica bobsled team’s experiences at the Olympics.

Jamaica Film Industry
Jamaica Film Industry

Jamaica’s Own Film Industry 

The first movie made in Jamaica by Jamaicans was The Harder They Come in 1972. This film represented a breakout for the island’s music scene of the 1960s and early 1970s. It is based on the life of Jimmy Cliff and is known as much for its soundtrack as for its  Cliff biography. The documentary Life and Debt (2001) examined the political reasons for many of Jamaica’s economic problems and offered a scathing look at the United States and its international policies.

With this legacy of moviemaking on the island, it is surprising that Jamaica’s own film industry is so small. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that filmmaking is an expensive business. Some observers blame its lack of growth on the need for prospective filmmakers to leave Jamaica in order to learn about the industry. Recent activities, such as those surrounding the film Third World Cop (1999) show that Jamaica is making an effort to make filmmaking into a viable industry for islanders, as well as for foreign moviemakers. The Film Commission of Jamaica, established in 1984, works hard to make the island welcoming to the business of film, but there is also significant and growing interest in developing Jamaica’s own cinematic creations.

Any country that is interested in preserving its legacy and culture must acknowledge the importance of support for local filmmakers. Jamaica has a thriving theater community that keeps local actors employed throughout the year. This community allows actors to prepare for participation in larger projects, such as the successful films Dancehall Queen and Third World Cop. Encouraging signs of this development are reflected by the island’s two yearly film festivals: the Reggae Film Fest and the Flash Point festival.


The Reggae Film Festival

In February 2009, the Jamaica Film Academy (JFA) will host the second annual Reggae Film Festival via the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth, and Sports (MICYS). It will be held at Emancipation Park in Kingston, and will be directed by the Ministry’s consultant, Barbara Blake Hannah, along with Peter Griffiths, a British film archivist.

One of the special activities new to the Festival in 2009 is the “Make a Film in 24 Hours” competition. According to Ms. Hannah, both amateurs and professionals are invited to participate. They will begin one morning at 6:00 AM and will have to submit their film at 6:00 AM the following morning. Films may be of any length, on any topic, and participants can even use their cell phones to make a film for the contest. Another special focus for 2009 will be on script writing through the offering of a script writing film seminar.

Ms. Hannah continues to look for sponsorship of the festival, saying that partial sponsorship has been obtained, but complete sponsorship is really needed. She also stated that there has been a lot of international interest in the Reggae Film Festival. Propellor TV, a European company, will promote the festival via online videos and trailers to 18 million viewers in Europe.

Individuals who would like to register to have their films shown at the Festival should visit its website at www.jamaicafilmacademy.org, They should download an entry form from the site, make a DVD copy of their film, and send it to the Festival.

The Flashpoint Film Festival

In 2004, Paul Bucknor and Greer-Ann and Bertram Saulter, proprietors at The Caves resort in Negril, conceived of the idea for the Flashpoint Film + Music Festival. They joined with the resort’s co-owner, Chris Blackwell, and plans for the Festival were finalized. After a delay caused by Hurricane Ivan, they received the support of Kindling, Inc., a firm led by Roderick Gordon, and subsequently obtained many more sponsors. Since 2004, the Festival has grown into a three-day affair and concentrated its focus on film, now being known as the Flashpoint Film Festival. While it is called a Caribbean festival, it also welcomes international film submissions.

The Festival’s founders recognize that international cinema needs to be continually refreshed by the vision and insight of new filmmakers. Technological advances such as affordable high-definition camcorders, have made it possible for more Jamaicans to make independent films, reflecting their cultural legacy and the social impact of the digital age.

The last Festival was held June 5-8, 2008. For more information visit the Flashpoint Film Festival website at http://www.flashpointfestival.com/ or email [email protected].

A List Films Shot in Jamaica

How Stella Got Her Groove Back
Twentieth Century Fox – 1998
Director: Jennifer Ogden
Producer: Deborah Schindler
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett

Third World Cop
Island Jamaica – 1998
Director: Chris Browne
Producer: Carolyn Ffieffer
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Paul Campbell

Silverback Productions/Walt Disney Studios – 1998
Director: John Turtlelaub
Producer: Michael Taylor, Barbara Boyle
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Streetlife Productions – 1998
Director: Hype Williams
Producer: Rich Ford
UPM-Jamaica: Kwesi Dixon
Stars: DMX, T-Boyz, Naz

The Man Who Knew Too Little
Warner Brothers/Stella Pictures – 1997
Director: Jonathan M. Amiel
Producer: Joseph Caracciolo, Mark Tarlov, Eddie Bianchi
UPM-Jamaica: Maxine Walters
Stars: Bill Murray, Joanne Walley

Shattered Images
FireCorp II/7 Arts Entertainment – 1997
Director: Raul Ruiz
Producer: Jack Barow
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Billy Baldwin, Anne Isabel Parilland

Dancehall Queen
Island Pictures – 1996
Director: Rick Elwood & Don Letts
Producer: Carl Bradshaw & Carolyn Pfieffer
Executive Producer: Chris Blackwell
UPM-Jamaica: Peter Packer
Stars: Audrey Reid, Paul Campbell, Carl Davis

The House Next Door
Blue Mountains Film Limited – 1995
Director: Allan Haft
Executive Producer: Neville Blythe
Producer: Joy Thorbourn
UPM-Jamaica: Sally Porteous
Stars: Sheryl Lee Ralph

Kingston Pictures Limited – 1994
Producers: Carolyn Ali, Carolyn Pfeiffer
Executive Producer: Laurie Broderick
Co-Executive Producer: Joy Thorbourne
Director: Bill Parker
UPM-Jamaica: Sally Porteous
Stars: Giancarlo Esposito, Jasmine Guy

Legends of the Fall
Tri-Star Pictures – 1993
Producer: Marshall Herskovitz, Ed Zwick
Executive Producer: Pat Crawley
Co-Producer: Jane Bartelme
Director: Ed Zwick
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Sir Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt

Cool Runnings
Walt Disney Studios/Blue Maaga Films Inc. – 1993
Producer: Dawn Steel
Executive Producer: Susan Landau
Director: Jon Turtletaub
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: John Candy, Leon

Going to Extremes
ABC TV Series – 1992
Executive Producer: Josh Brand/John Falsey
Producer: Greg Prange
Associate Producer: Maxine Walters
Stars: Carl Lumbley, Andrew Lauer, Joanna Going, June Chadwick, Erika Alexandra

Viacom Pictures – 1992
Executive Producer: Paul Mason
Director: John Flynn
Producer: David Lancaster
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Christopher Walken, Lorraine Bracco

Wide Sargasso Sea
New Line Cinema – 1991
Director: John Duigan
Producer: Jan Sharp
Line Producer: Karen Koch
Location Manager: Peter Packer
Stars: Rachel Ward, Michael York

Prelude to a Kiss
Twentieth Century Fox – 1991
Director: Norman Rene
Executive Producer: Jennifer Ogden, Michael Gruskoff
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Alec Baldwin, Meg Ryan

Negod – Gwad Productions – 1990
Prouder/Director: Hailie Gerima
UPM-Jamaica: Carmen Franczyk
Stars: Mutabaruka

Marked for Death
Twentieth Century Fox – 1990
Director: Dwight Little
Producers: Michael Grais, Mark Victor, Steven Seagal
Stars: Steven Seagal, Joanna Pacula, Jimmy Cliff

The Lunatic
Intrepid Productions/Island Pictures/World Films – 1990
Director: Lol Creme
Producers: Chris Blackwell, Paul Heller, John Pringle
Co-Producer: Matthew Binns
Stars: Paul Campbell, Julie T. Wallace

Movie Partners/Century Films/Studio Three Film Corp. – 1989
Executive Producers: Howard Hurst, Karl Hendrickson, Howard Baldwin
Director: Mar Herrier
Producers: Torben Johnke, Gary Gosh, Ashock Armitraj
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Tom Villard, Jill Schoelen, Dee Wallace Stone, Tony Roberts

Treasure Island
MFS Film Ltd./Turner Network Television – 1989 – Feature for Television
Director: Fraser Heston
Producer: Peter Snell
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Charlton Heston, Christian Bale, Oliver Reed

Anglin Television Films & Drama Ltd. – 1989 – Feature for Television
Director: Don Boyd
Producer: David Fitzgerald
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Charles Dance

The Mighty Quinn
MGM/A&M USA – 1988
Director: Carl Schenkel
Executive Producer: Gil Friesen, Dale Pollock
Producer: Sandy Lieberson, Marlon Hunt, Ed Albert
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, Sheryl Lee-Ralph

Lord of the Flies
Castle Rock Entertainment USA Signal Hill Productions JA – 1988
Director: Harry Hook
Producer: Ross Milloy
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Michael Green

Filmustang SLR Italy – 1988
Director: Enzo Castellari
Stars: Daniel Green, Nick Cassada

Passion and Paradise
Prime Media Canada, Picture Base Int’l. UK. ABC USA – 1988 – Feature for Television
Director: Harvey Hart
Producers: Michael Custance, Peter Jeffries, Leonard Hill
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Rod Steiger, Amand Assante, Marriette Hartley, Catherine Stewart, Wayne Rogers, Michael Sarrazin

Milk and Honey
Cineflics/JA Film Co. Inc. CAN – 1987
Director: Glen Salzman/Rebecca Yates
Executive Producer: Peter O’Brian
UPM-Jamaica: Michael London
Stars: Josette Simon

Touchstone/Walt Disney Pictures USA – 1987
Director: Roger Donaldson
Producer: Dan Heffner
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, Elizabeth Shue

Clara’s Heart
Marty Elfand Productions/Warner Bros. USA – 1987
Director: Robert Mulligan
Producer: Marty Elfand
Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Kathleen Quinlan, Michael Onktean

In Like Flynn
Astrol Film Entertainment CAN – 1985
Director: Richard Lang
Producer: Harker Wade
UPM-Jamaica: Robert Russell
Stars: Jenny Seagrove

Club Paradise
Warner Bros. USA – 1985
Director: Harold Ramis
Producer: Michael Shamberg
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Peter O’Toole, Robin Williams, Twiggy, Jimmy Cliff

Return to Treasure Island
HTV Ltd. Wales/Walt Disney Television USA – 1985
Director: Piers Haggard
Producer: Alan Clayton
Stars: Brian Blessed

Otto – The Film
Rialto Films W. GER – 1985
Director: Otto Walker
Producer: Hans Otto Mettens
UPM-Jamaica: Natalie Thompson
Stars: Otto Walker

Island Pictures – 1984
Executive: Chris Blackwell
Director: Dicky Jobson
Stars: Carl Bradshaw

MGM Pictures – 1981
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
UPM-Jamaica: Matthew Binns
Stars: Gene Hackman, Mickey Rourke, Jane Lapotaire, Therisa Russell

Children of Babylon
Mediamix/Rainbow Productions – 1979
Director: Lennie Little-White
Producer: Lennie Little-White
Stars: Tobi Phillips, Bob Andy

Children of Babylon
Mediamix/Rainbow Productions – 1979
Director: Lennie Little-White
Producer: Lennie Little-White
Stars: Tobi Phillips, Bob Andy

Blue Sun Film Company – 1978
Director: Theodoros Bafaloukos
Producer: Theodoros Bafaloukos
Stars: Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace and Richard “DirtyHarry” Hall

Smile Orange
Nuts Production – 1973
Executive: Eddie Knight
Director: Trevor Rhone
Stars: Carl Bradshaw, Glen Morrison

The Harder They Come
Vista Film Production JA – 1972
Director: Perry Henzel
Producer: Perry Henzel
Stars: Jimmy Cliff

The Mercenaries – MGM/GB
The Dark of the Sun USA – 1968
Director: Jack Cardiff
Producer: George England
Stars: Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown

In Like Flint
TCF USA – 1967
Director: Gordon Douglas
Producer: Saul David
Stars: James Cobum, Lee J. Cobb, Jean Hall, Andrew Duggan

A High Wind in Jamaica
TCF GB – 1965
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Producer: John Croyden
Stars: Deborah Baxter, Anthony Quinn, James Coburn

Dr. No
United Artists/EON GB – 1962
Director: Terrence Young
Producer: Harry Salzman/Albert R. Broccoli
Stars: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, Joseph Wiseman

Passionate Summer
Rank/Kenneth Harper GB – 1958
Director: Rudolph Cartier
Producer: Kenneth Harper
Stars: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Yvonne Mitchell

Island In The Sun
TCF GB – 1957
Director: Robert Rosen
Producer: Daryl F. Zanuck
Stars: James Mason, Joan Fontaine, Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Joan Collins

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea
Walt Disney Pictures USA – 1954
Director: Richard Fliescher
Stars: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre

All The Brothers Were Valiant
MGM, USA – 1953
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Pandaro S. Berman
Stars: Stewart Granger, Robert Taylor, Ann Blythe