“Marley resonated with me because in my travels around the world I had seen his impact. Always, everywhere you go around the globe, from Tibet to Japan, you find Bob Marley fans. And I just wondered why? What is it about him that is so much more resonant than any other popular musician throughout history?” These words by Academy Award-winning director Kevin MacDonald articulate his inherent interest and curiosity into the life of reggae legend Bob Marley, which led him to direct the widely acclaimed 2012 documentary titled Marley. The Scottish filmmaker conducted a Q&A session which was hosted by the British High Commissioner to the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Arthur Gordon Snell at his residence in Maraval last Thursday afternoon. Macdonald came to Trinidad to introduce his latest film Marley at the opening night gala of the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival 2012 which took place on September 19 at the Queen’s Hall. The biographical film is an in-depth look at the life, music and legacy of the reggae star and was released in earlier this year to high critical acclaim.
When asked whether he sees any shortcomings in the film that he now wishes he could change, Macdonald stated that this is usually the case in any creative piece of work that a director takes on. He admitted, “I find it unbearable to sit and watch all the mistakes in one of my films in front of an audience.” He continued, “The last time I tried to watch it [Marley] was at the world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February and I got about half an hour in but I was sweating so much and was so uncomfortable that I had to leave.” In particular, he stated that he sometimes regrets cutting the running time of the film from three hours to two hours and twenty-five minutes. “I wish I could put back in all the things I took out and maybe show it in two parts.” Contrastingly, Macdonald stated that he was pleased with what he described as the “classical, simple style” of the film. He asserted that he refrained from imposing too much of himself into the film and that most of his impositions were strictly editorial ones. He went on to explain, “I saw the film very much as an oral history of Bob Marley.” The film, as he described it, is more like a literary artifact than a film artifact in that it is consists of numerous verbal accounts by those who knew Bob Marley best.
In response to being questioned about his interest in the life of this Jamaican icon, Macdonald insisted that it would be difficult to create a meaningful documentary without “deep passionate interest” into the subject. He opined that the film industry can be a rather unpleasant business to work in due to difficulties with funding, unavoidable compromises which negatively affect the film as well as long, exhausting filming schedules. This solidified his assertion that the basis of this Marley documentary was to be enlightened and to clarify the many misconceptions surrounding Marley’s life. Macdonald explained, “That’s why I left my voice in the film so that hopefully you hear me inquiring and being curious. I think it makes you feel like the film maker is learning as he goes along just like you [the viewers] are.” Similarly, Macdonald stated that the producer of the documentary Steve Bing was also extremely passionate about Bob Marley and was thus willing to provide whatever funding was necessary to ensure that “Marley” was a quality piece of work. He stated that he was fortunate in that funding for the film was never really an issue. “Whenever I told him that I needed to buy the rights to another song and it could cost another $25,000, he would say, ‘This is for history, Kevin. I don’t want you to be held back by money.’” Macdonald admitted that he felt added pressure to ensure that the film was worth all the money, time and effort that was invested into it. Admitting that there was more financial risk involved in the production of a documentary as compared to a feature film, he stated that this was “nerve-racking but energising also.” Among challenges he faced, was attempting to make his documentary stand out among the many documentaries that have been produced about the singer-songwriter during his life and after his death 1981.
While the filmmaker admitted that this worried him for quite some time, he said that he eventually interviewed a few people who offered insight into Bob’s life from a very different angle. Among these, he said, was an interview with Bob’s half-sister, Constance Marley. In a rather gripping moment in the movie, Constance listens to Marley’s melodic song Cornerstone. The lyrics are, “The stone that the builder refused will always be the head cornerstone,” left Constance to ponder whether or not the song was rooted in the fact that Bob was denied by the family of his father Norval Marley. She comes to the revelation that ironically enough, it is the mulatto child who was renounced by his father’s family who eventually made the Marley name a globally-recognised one. Macdonald did not neglect to mention that the documentary Marley along with its soundtrack has done exceptionally well since its release earlier this year. Online ratings and critical reviews have been largely positive and the film continues to gain popularity though it has not yet received any awards. Macdonald received the Academy Award for Best Documentary for his riveting 1999 documentary One Day in September which dealt with the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. See page six for the schedule of films being shown at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival today.