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Kingston Book Festival Encourages Synergies Between Books and Films

Parish Bull directed by Michael Tingling

Hollywood’s cinematic history is strewn with films born of adaptations from books, many of which have gone on to cop numerous Academy Awards and and even greater quantiy have been blockbusters. Films such as Argo, The Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, The Social Network, Precious, No Country for Old Men, The Departed and The Lord of the Rings are all based on adaptations. Yet, in Jamaica’s still relatively embryonic film industry those synergies have not been well struck.

However, amongst the roster of events populating the Kingston Book Festival’s packed 2013 schedule was the screening of Jamaican films to highlight the synergies between the book and film industries, and encourage cross-fertilization between the two. The event which took place at Redbones the Blues Cafe featured Trevor Rhone’s Smile Orange and Michael ‘Ras Tingle’ Tingling’s Parish Bull. Country of the One-Eyed God directed by Chris Browne (Third World Cop, Ghett’a Life) had also been on the schedule but did not make the screening.

Smile OrangeCountry of the One-Eyed God is one of the few direct adaptations which exist on the landscape. The film, which stars Paul Campbell and Barbara McCalla, is an adaptation of Olive Senior’s short story by the same name. Anthony Winkler’s The Lunatic and The Annihilation of Fish are two of the others. The Lunatic, produced by Island Pictures featured a strong Jamaican cast and UK filmmaker, Lol Creme. The only Jamaican connection with The Annihilation of Fish, however, was Winkler.

Smile Orange (1974), written and directed by the late Trevor Rhone shows a three-way linkage. The film was based on Rhone’s 1971 play of the same name. The play script of Smile Orange was subsequently published making Smile Orange one of the few Jamaican works with life as a film, a book and a play. The Harder They Come, co-authored by Rhone and the film’s director Perry Henzell is another such. After the release of The Harder They Come it was adapted to a novel by Michael Thelwell and later made into a play.

Parish Bull was included as a special sneak peek of the anthology film Ring Di Alarm produced by New Caribbean Cinema. Parish Bull is written by Kurt Wright. The film stars Christopher Hutchinson and is loosely based on the legends arising from the famous Kendal Crash, though not based on a novel, the film highlights the possible synergies as Beverly East’s Reaper of Souls also explores the Kendal Crash.

Explaining that he had not previously heard of Reaper of Souls, Tingling noted that he however believes that strengthening the synergies between the film and book industries is a good thing.

“Converting these stories that are intricate to our survival is important,” he said. “I want to be the vanguard of that.” Tingling explained that he used to be involved with a black bookstore Head Start Books and sees films as a route to cultural preservation. “It’s almost like the print media gone out a style,” Tingling said candidly, noting that the young are far more likely to be engaged by the visual media.

Storm Saulter (Better Mus Come) co-founder of New Caribbean Cinema noted that there is scope for greater interplay between the two forms. “I think that the thing that we need most in film is good writers and good stories,” he said. According to Saulter the low level of adaptations is possibly simply reflective of the low film output emanating from the island. He also noted that it is challenging to master how to convert a novel to a film. As such, he believes that the first step is to convert short stories to short or even feature length films. Saulter also revealed that their are existing Jamaican books that he is interested in converting to film.

The Kingston Book Festival 2013 takes place under the theme ‘Celebrating the Arts’ and the film night is one of the events throughout the week which draws attention to the linkages between publishing and the different art forms. The roster of events also includes networking opportunities to so that the players throughout these sectors can create opportunities to work together.  The festival continues through to March 10, 2013.