Bad Friday, Good DialogueWritten by Ryan Swano
Anthroplogy Prof. Deborah A. Thomas and Prof. John Jackson of The University of Pennsylvania, set out to learn how a specific set of events unfolded as told first-hand from the people who were at the time amongst those persecuted in Jamaica in the early 1960's. This was to be included in a book about violence in Jamaica.
One of the elders she interviewed suggested that she film the interviews and so the film Bad Friday came about.
The film Bad Friday not only seeks to explore the events that happened to the Rastafarian section of the population of Jamaica in 1963 and became known as The Coral Gardens Incident, but it serves as a catalyst for dialogue about what effects targeted state sanctioned violence has on the psyche of a people.
The Bad Friday South African tour arranged in conjunction with Cape Town film maker Kurt Orderson of Azania Rising Productions is a series of screenings and workshops in various centres across the country.
The producers of the film, with film and anthropology students from The University of Pennsylvania, who some hail from different parts of the world including India and Pakistan, a delegation from Jamaica including Rastafarian elder Ras Simba who is one of those who's stories are featured in the film, are all present at each screening event.
This is not merely an exercise in depicting Rastafarian history but is an ideal opportunity for people from all walks of life to dissect the impact of violence on society as a whole.
The screening I attended was hosted by The Elsies River Film Workshop which is a community & youth empowerment initiative of the production company Rainbow Circle Films owned by Vaughan Giose and is based at The Elsies River Public Library. Local film makers, film students from the immediate area and from as far afield as Khayelitsha , musicians, artists and activists all come out to see the film and participate in the discussions.
Around half of those attending happened to be Rastafarians from Elsies River and the surrounding areas, many of whom did not know of The Coral Gardens Incident as an important point in the history of their culture.
The swinging sixties may have been all fun love and happiness for some sectors of society but there were events in that decade of which the impact is still experienced in entire societies, including South Africa as a nation.
While in the US civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm x and John F Kennedy were assassinated, anti-apartheid movements in South Africa were banned, leaders rounded up and arrested and scores of people massacred in places like Sharpeville, there was also large scale persecution of Rastafarians in a nation that virtually owes our awareness of its existence to Reggae music introduced to the world by their Rastafarian citizens.
Most of us associate Jamaica with being the home of Rastafarians and Reggae music, but there is a blemish in that country's history that even large sectors of it's own citizens and many Rastafarians around the world do not know of.
Proceedings were opened with a mesmerising performance by Glen Arendse of Matroosfontein, Elsies River, using the traditional Khoisan bow and arrow as his musical instrument set the tone for the whole event. Glen explained the importance of the bow as a connection to our collective past as human beings and particularly as Africans. The significance of a hunting tool and weapon also being a traditional musical instrument struck a chord with everyone
With the opening introductions and formalities all done, we headed straight into an interactive presentation led by the visiting film students concentrating on Media Ethnography and how the 'subjects' should be the ones who drive the story. Interestingly all of the discussions in that and later sessions were driven by questions from the audience.
It was nearly time for the actual screening of the film Bad Friday but an important highlight of every screening event is that immediately before each screening there is a 40 minute to one hour long performance by New York/Jamaican based Nyabinghi band "Ancient Vibration" that brings the energy of the acoustic music that birthed the Reggae we know today. This is a concert in itself and being a live music fan, I can say that if there was any charge to attend the event it would have been worth paying if only for the musical experience.
The screening events are however all Free of Charge and open to all members of the public.
The film itself right from the start evokes emotion and one immediately draws parallels with the stories of persecuted communities across the world and particularly our stories as South Africans.
The discussions after the screening was again driven by comments and questions from the audience. One of the first comments was that in the film it is mentioned that South Africa, Jamaica and Colombia are three of the countries with the highest per capita murder rates in the world if not the top three. Interestingly all three those countries have long histories of state-sanctioned violence and when the violence from the state subsided a whole nation had already become accustomed to personal or group conflict being resolved with violence and thus it perpetuates. The question was asked how we can go about ridding ourselves of the shameful title of being the murder capital of the world.
Addressing the question, the wise words of Port Antonio, Jamaica born artist and musician Philip Ambokele Henry was resounded in almost each of the other issues that came up for discussion after the film. "We do not have a magical solution to ending violence in society, a solution that will make it all go away in one sweep, yet we can all work towards the ideal peaceful society by each of us keeping our inner light burning and lighting up the lives of those we come into contact with. The only way we can decrease violence is by continuing against all odds to spread peace ."
A broad range of issues were discussed including that of Aboriginal or Indigenous People's Rights and of Restitution Payments to peoples who were dispossessed, enslaved or have suffered prolonged persecution. Even though there was no intention to come up with immediate resolutions to that or any of the other issues, the space was created for future forum discussions amongst those who attended the Bad Friday screening event and plans are already afoot for setting up those sessions.
The event also turned out to be an excellent opportunity for film makers, film students musicians, artists and activists to network.
It is the contention of the organisers that the outcome of each screening and workshop event is really unpredictable as each different audience will have an opportunity to drive the discussions with their comments and questions.
My hope is that when you attend one of the screenings in your part of the country, you and your community also benefit from the dialogue created through a film about an event that in terms of time and geographical distance at first seems totally unrelated to your own here and now.
Check out the Bad Friday SA Tour Facebook Page for details of where Screenings and Workshops are being held between now and 24 July.