Five years ago, Mark Hart asked fellow filmmaker Luciano Blotta to come to Kingston, Jamaica to make a documentary on a TV series called “Ninja Man.’’
While filming, Blotta encountered Jamaican talent hanging outside of popular spots, promoting themselves as artists. Rise Up was born.
Since its debut in the United States, Rise Up has won the Best Music Documentary Award from the Silver Docs, an American Film Institute, and Discovery Channel Film Festival.
Rise Up was also screened at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, Hot Docs Film Festival, True/False Film Fest, Doc Aviv Film Festival, Lemesos Docs Cyprus, and the Camden International Film Festival.
The film was also screened earlier this month at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.
According to the film’s website, “Rise Up is a journey into the heart of Jamaica. In a society where talent abounds and opportunity is scarce, three distinct and courageous artists fight to rise up from obscurity and write themselves into the pages of history.”
The three main artists featured in this documentary are Turbulence (born Sheldon Campbell), Kemoy Reid and Ice Anastacia (born Michael Lewis).
One of the best aspects of this film is that it takes a real look at the island of Jamaica, from the various parts of the north side. Turbulence is from a tenement yard called Hungrytown in downtown Kingston. He is a reggae artist with much talent, but no money to promote himself, let alone feed himself and his family.
Kemoy, also known as Kim, is from a country community in Clarendon. She is quite shy in the beginning of the film, with big dreams of becoming a music superstar. In the course of the film, she remains positive and keeps her faith in God, even after being robbed at gunpoint on her way to her first stage performance.
By the end, Kim has become pregnant, but gets a studio session with two international powerhouse producers, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and singer/songwriter Suzanne Couch.
Ice Anastacia is from uptown Kingston, which looks like any middle-class neighborhood in the United States. He rocks designer duds and drives a souped-up Honda. Ice’s main goal is to perform at the Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay.
Sumfest is a can’t-miss festival for reggae artists around the world to showcase their talent. Ice and his hangers-on get a chance to perform on its stage, but they fail to win over the crowd.
“I can’t go back to making a narrative film,” said Blotta, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, currently living in Los Angeles, California. His experience living in the hills of Kingston has changed Blotta forever. The ups and downs of his traverse inspired him to help the people he was filming.
Turbulence, who had toured all over the world with international reggae artist Sizzla, was still broke and in need of a music video to give him the push he needed to break into mainstream reggae.
Blotta, who broke a documentary commandment and reached out beyond the lens, has helped Turbulence and Kim. He filmed a music video for Turbulence for just $100. This music video served as a catalyst for Turbulence’s widespread fame among his people on the island.
For Kim, Blotta brought her voice to Couch, who brought the same recording to Dunbar and Shakespeare. Despite her hiatus after having her son, Enrique, Kim is still positive about her budding career. When she’s ready, Blotta will be there to help her realize her dreams.
As for Ice, his family is well off, so he didn’t really need much help from Blotta and company, other than to get his face known around the world as a reggae artist.
“If you think about the level of crime, you feel unsafe,” Blotta said when asked about his feelings of safety on the island. “But, the fact that you get involved to tell the story, you forget about it.”
Blotta’s good deeds did not go unpunished. When Kim was robbed, the gunman was after him. Because Jamaica is a small island, it’s easy for any new arrival’s presence to be quickly known.
Fortunately, this hasn’t changed Blotta’s view of Jamaica and its many talented people. What this one negative act did was make him more resilient and determined to complete his project.
From his five years of filming, Blotta created Rise Up, a wonderfully engaging documentary about the journey of three artists trying to carve their own niche in a world where money is the ultimate decision maker.
“I grew up playing in the streets of Argentina, a simple life. Jamaica’s not that far from that,” said Blotta, who is making his rounds in various film festivals all over the world to get feedback and make his film better, before pursuing a distribution deal. “Jamaica is now my second home.”
For more information on Rise Up, you can visit its website at www.riseupmovie.com.
Photo: Singer Kemoy Reid portrays Kim in the documentary Rise Up.