The place was buzzing with excitement. The paparazzi were out too, and in full force. No doubt, this was a historical and newsworthy event – one for the ages. Armed with high-powered cameras, two photographers expertly worked the crowd that gathered outdoors under a canopy of brilliant sunshine gleaming through clear skies, and which glimmered neon-like through the webbing of tall coconut palm trees standing majestically off in the distance.
The stars were out, shining in their African garb as they milled about and walked with the other 60 or so women, men and children as they paraded and pranced up the green carpet toward front stage. They feted and feasted, laughed and joked. Soon they would sit and watch with keen interest as the images of the documentary film by Roy T. Anderson flickered and came to life. It was a story they instinctually knew well, but one they had never seen told with such power and savvy. It was an amazing evening.
This was not Paris, New York, LA or Cannes; neither was it Harlem, Toronto, London, or Birmingham, Alabama, or any of the other many notable cities where Akwantu: the Journey has been (or will be) screened to packed audiences. No, this was Ridge Pen, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, a rural village currently without the amenity of electricity, a farming community of villagers, many of whom can trace their origins back to the Maroons.
This outdoor screening was revolutionary. It had never been done here before. It had been billed as the Homecoming Screening, a significant part the reunion of the Rowe family who hosted and organized the event.
Many family members were present including Adisa S. Oji of MACPRI, Founder of Oware Canada, who also serves as the documentary’s Chief Stills Photographer. Present too were his mother, brother, sister and extended family members, including the indomitable Packieman, who is featured in the documentary.
That the screening was held in Ridge Pen, and in this way, was as a result of the purposeful vision and determination of filmmaker Anderson, and his able team, who together exemplify by the same passion and strength of will that propelled the Maroons to resist domination and to pursue freedom in the 18th century.
With single-minded fortitude, fuelled by his own resources, Anderson was intent on using his deep family heritage as a launching pad to document and tell a people’s journey from Africa to Jamaica, particularly the great struggle of the Maroons to maintain their autonomy and freedom in the face of European hegemony.
“Groundbreaking, bold and timely” was how one Jamaican daily newspaper described the documentary, which tells the history of this hemisphere’s first successful freedom fighters.
The Homecoming Screening in Ridge Pen was one of three screenings held in Jamaica between June 20 and 24. The Press and Industry Screening, held in association with the Institute of Jamaica, went off well on Wednesday, June 20 in Kingston, where attendees included Natalie Thompson, Justine Henzell, Cheryl Ryman, Karen Harriot, Vivian Crawford, Executive Director, Institute of Jamaica, UNESCO Director, Kwame Boafo, Anne-Marie Bonner (Former Jamaica Consul General for Toronto) and UWI Mona History professor, Verene Shepherd.
On Friday, June 22, the World Premiere Screening of Akwantu took place in Charles Town, Portland, in association with the Charles Town Maroon Council, the Institute of Jamaica and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund. This went off with similar success to the Homecoming Screening.
Billed as the “Night of the Ancestors”, this screening added value to the three-day Fourth International Maroon Conference that was unfolding at the same time. The conference, which attracted an international audience, featured panels on Maroon culture, history and philosophy, and also included drumming and dancing performances as well as arts and crafts displays.
On an evening in an outdoor compound, many local citizens and visitors watched with pride and a sense of discovery. The 87-minute account of the path of freedom and independence forged by the Maroons, and which ultimately led to rugged, hilly and interior communities such as Charles Town, was visibly enthralling.
Anderson, the producer and director of Akwantu: the Journey, is a Hollywood stuntman of renown who lists the likes of Will Smith and Jamie Fox among others on his resume.
Akwantu may be his biggest stunt yet. As Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, the documentary has been designated as a Jamaica 50-endorsed film. It is garnering critical acclaim worldwide and within the Diaspora. Likely, it will also attract commercial interest from others in the film industry.
Akwantu: the Journey is a tribute to an important ancestral past. It is also a highly educational tool of historical importance with the ability to inspire and motivate. The three showings held in Jamaica demonstrated the power of the documentary’s narrative. As Akwantu continues its inexorable journey forward, expect a seismic shift on many levels.
The film is written and narrated by Anderson and is co-produced by Alison G. Anderson. Associate Producer is Edward Washington and the Editor is Mike Nero. Sound Designer and Composer is Rolando Gori and Animations Creative Director is Vineet Verma. Consultant for the project was Harcourt T. Fuller. The film was made under the auspices of Action 4 Reel Filmworks, LLC.
For more information, visit: www.akwantuthemovie.com.
By MELLO AYO