Conversation with Nadine Drummond, Director/Producer of “The Children of Zion” documentary

Nadine Drummond is a producer at Al Jazeera Network where she specializes in international and breaking news. Her new film “The Children of Zion” is a documentary about the pioneering Jamaicans who built the oldest Rastafari settlement in the world in southern Ethiopia. The London native born to Jamaican parents holds degrees in law and broadcasting from the Universities of Cambridge and Miami. She gave up a career in law to pursue her heart – People and their untold stories. Nadine’s professional journalism career began in Florida in 2006. She moved to CNN in 2008 and in 2011 joined Al Jazeera English in Qatar. Here is our conversation with Nadine.

Tell us about your background? How are you connected to Jamaica?
I am Jamglish! Born in London, England to Jamaican parents but call Highgate, St. Mary my spiritual home, experienced many happy childhood memories there.

How did you become interested in this film on Jamharics: The Children of Zion?
I first heard about Shashamane in a Buju tune, “Til I’m laid rest.” There is a lyric where he says: “Mi guh down a Congo and stop inna Shahamane land”. I did not know what Shashamane was so I Goolged it. I read about this Jamaican Rasta community and because I love ALL things Jamaican, I promised myself I would visit.

I went to Ethiopia for my birthday last December and after visiting Lalibela and Addis Ababa I chartered a taxi and went to Shashamane. I did not know anyone; I only managed to source an email and a number of a guest house.  So upon my arrival, I hailed the first Rastaman I saw, Ras Darka Gad originally from Washington Gardens. He invited me into his home that was the intended guest house and that’s where I stayed.

Through reasoning with members of the community I realized there was a story, an untold story and I wanted to share it with the world.

What will be the main goal of the documentary?
There are two goals:

  1. The first goal is to share this amazing story of pioneering Jamaican Rastafari with the world. Their legacy, characterized by bravery and sacrifice should be celebrated as a major contribution to Jamaican and Pan African history.
  2.  Secondly I want to support existing community based programmes and develop new ones.  50% of the proceeds of Jamharics: The Children of Zion will support projects like the Ancient of Days which provides medical and healthcare support to the original pioneering community members. It will also develop sustainable HIV/Aids support projects which will offer HIV awareness and prevention training.

You are using crowd sourcing to raise the funds to do the documentary. How has the funding been going?
The funding has not been going very well at all. I have raised $1,500 but need over $30,000 more. The good thing is that over 5,000 people watched the Jamharics promo within three weeks of launch. There is an audience for the film but that needs to translate in to dollars. Those in power have always written the history, while the sufferas have always written the songs! I want to document the history of our people; I don’t want to do that through song, in part because I cannot score music or sing!

Many documentary film makers speak of the change that happens within themselves as they start to film their subject? 
The change is real! I feel like I am channeling the spirit Nanny of the Maroons who fought to protect a legacy and people that no one cared about.  The process has connected me to the universe in a way I have not experienced before. It has made me stress less because I believe that Jah will provide everything I need to complete Jamharics the Children of Zion. Bob says, “Don’t worry about a thing, cos everything is gonna be alright.”  And somehow it will be!

The process of film making has made me cleaner… spiritually you know, when you are dealing with real Rastas you can’t be around them if your heart is not open and clean– in part because you will not survive the baptism of fire!  Now I am clean every day mi wake up, I have attracted people who you would not imagine. I have a religiously and racially diverse team. We have one Hindu, one Jew, two Christians and three Muslims who have helped take the project this far because we all believe in the fundamental principle of Rastafari: One Love, One People, One World.

As you met with the Rastafarians who live in Ethiopia, what did you learn about them that people who live outside will never understand?
The film will seek to explain the nuances in the Jamharic struggle so I don’t think there will be anything the audience will never understand. But I think what was hard for me to understand initially was how truly valiant these pioneering Rastas were. They had this belief and they realized it. Most people do not act on their words or beliefs, they just chat. But not these Rasta’s, no other group of people in the world have done what they have done.  They left their tiny island, funded by their independent rasta organization and repatriated themselves back to Africa and made it possible for other Rastafari people from all over the world to settle in Shashamane! The community boasts over 20 different nationalities…as far west as Austria and as far south as New Zealand because of those very brave Jamaicans.

Once you complete the documentary how will it be distributed to tell the story?
I don’t know yet. There are a few options, but I’ll choose the one that best supports the Children of Zion.

Are you working on any other projects you care to share with our readers?
I did have a column on success and personal development for a while in a Caymanian paper but I had to give it up. Producing a film on three continents with no budget from the Middle East is a beast. Combining that with a full time job is unbelievably tough.  But Jah makes everything possible!

You gave us a career in law to purse telling untold stories. Do you have any regrets doing that?
NO! Not at all. I respect the law and its practitioners but I needed to do something a little more creative that has an immediate effect on people’s lives. Journalism allows me to do just that. The work I do impacts government policies and can change the law.

I am much happier at this end of the spectrum. I am pillar of democracy. No civil society can function without a robust press and I am honored that my skills have allowed me that privilege.

What advice do you have for young film makers and producers?

•        Never take no for an answer. You only need YES!
•        Become an expert shooter, writer, editor or graphic designer. Too many of us pretend we are professionals without having the requisite training and or skills.
•        Develop a network of people that share your vision and passion. Helps if they have different expertise so they can fill the skills gap.
•        “Short cut draw blood, long cut draw sweat.” There are NO short cuts! Hard work and discipline is what will ensure success in any project you under take.
•    You only have one reputation. Do not ruin it! Do what you say you will. Your word should be your bond.

Your favorite Jamaican food is…?
On the road to Ital livity but oxtail and festival have mi weak star.

Growing up my hero was…
Uhuru from the original Star Trek.

A movie I never get tired of watching is…
The Matrix. It’s an excellent example of how ‘Babylon’ works!

Thanks for the interview any closing thoughts for visitors to
Jamaicans have the most robust and intoxicating culture in world. There is value in everything we are. Be proud of all of it!

Check out Nadine’s company Jamharics social media pages and  website at the links below:
The Children of Zion is a documentary about the pioneering Jamaicans who built the oldest Rastafari settlement in the world. Located in Shashamane in southern Ethiopia, it’s the religious and spiritual home to about 800 men, women and children. It is unique in Africa in its longevity but in a world where Bob Marley is an instantly recognizable figure, Shashamane the city that Rasta’s built remains largely unknown.  Against the odds the Children of Zion have survived but in order to thrive they must overcome multiple threats to their existence.

About the author

Xavier Murphy