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Made In Jamaica

Filmmaker Jérôme Laperrousaz embarks on a documentary that explores the social bump and grind of reggae and dancehall.

Made in Jamaica is a documentary about the bump and grind of dancehall and reggae, and it's the latest love letter to the island from filmmaker Jérôme Laperrousaz. Featuring the genre's most well-known names, it makes for both an entertaining and intriguing film about a style of music which is often misrepresented and misunderstood.

Dazed Digital: Attempting to cover the entire history of reggae, dancehall and Jamaican culture in one film is a big task, how did you approach it?

Jérôme Laperrousaz: First of all, I didn’t want to cover the whole history of Jamaican music. That’s why I made some choices. I cast it as a feature film, and I know the artists personally, so I knew that they would come up with something, whether it was through the lyrics of their songs or their interviews. Everything was rigorously prepared. But my vision and my understanding of Jamaica is told through them, through what they have been through.

DD: There is no real narrative and it seems like you just let the artists express themselves however they liked...
Jérôme Laperrousaz: It looks like that, but I proceeded the opposite way. For instance, if you look at the film at the beginning it’s like a duel between two artists – Bounty Killer and Lady Saw, and very quickly there is a party which becomes a tragedy. One of my protagonists has now been killed for real – the dancehall icon Bogle. Ironically, Gregory Isaacs performs “Kingston 14” later in the film (a song written 20 years earlier). In the song, Gregory sings, “Saturday Carnival, Sunday, funeral”. Before the killing of Bogle, I had already decided to set this at a funeral. It’s an echo of what Bogle went through. It shows that nothing has changed.

DD: Was it easy to get the artists to open up and allow themselves to be filmed?
Jérôme Laperrousaz: Yes. I had previously made Third World Prisoner In The Streets which they all admired. It was well received by Marley’s generation so I was introduced to the new generation by the old guard, which made everything possible. 

DD: What does Jamaica mean to you, and why are you so interested in the country and the culture?

Jérôme Laperrousaz: To me Jamaica speaks to people very loudly through music on an emotional level. Jamaica is a microcosm of what the poor in the world are going through. Despite its culture it has a universal appeal – freedom, equality and tolerance. Demands for social equality and justice in Jamaica resonate with other cultures and society worldwide.

DD: The problems in Jamaica (unemployment, violence, gang wars) are being mirrored in the UK at the moment – what parallels do you see in Jamaica and the rest of the world?

Jérôme Laperrousaz: Jamaica reflects all the world’s struggles. But the people are talented and creative enough to express it through song and a form of music shared by the rest of the world. It's music is a voice for a voiceless society.

DD: One of the problems that has plagued Jamaican dancehall artists for a while is the accusation of homophobia. That wasn't covered in the film, did you purposely ignore that?
Jérôme Laperrousaz: It was very clear in my meetings with the artists that I was against any discrimination, so I didn’t want the film to spread any discrimination. The subject is so complicated that I didn’t want to come up with simple answers which would over-simplify the reality of the situation in Jamaica. To have dealt with the question properly, I would have had to have made an entire documentary on the subject itself.

DD: Was the intention of this film to open the music and the culture to people who perhaps don't know anything about it?

Jérôme Laperrousaz: Very much so. In many countries, I have seen people of different generations not knowing anything about reggae and dancehall coming out of the film and saying that they enjoyed the film and discovered things that they were unaware of. Reggae and dancehall transcend generations. 

DD: Do you plan to make anymore films in Jamaica?
Jérôme Laperrousaz: I do. My next project in development is a thriller set on the island. It’s too early to say any more.

Opens October 23 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Special screenings: Watershed Bristol, Q&A with the director Oct 22, Rio Dalston for One Night Only Oct 24, ICA Q&A with the director Oct 25