Ahead of a special screening of Bob Marley: Making of a Legend, which plays as part of a new season at BFI Southbank called from Jamaica to the World: Reggae on Film, the BFI’s David Somerset details how this incredible documentary made its way to the screen.
Esther Anderson is a towering figure in the UK Caribbean community, a polymath, who acts and writes as well as makes films. This former Miss Jamaica also photographed Bob Marley for early publicity shorts including the cover of Catch a Fire. She is renowned as a champion of Jamaican culture.
Around 2009, Esther told me that she was working on a new film inspired by her re-discovery of some fly on the wall video footage she had shot of Bob (Marley) after she met him in the early ‘70s. Footage that showed Bob before he was an international star, hanging out and playing with his friends, fellow Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Footage that hadn’t been seen for some 35 years.
In the early ‘70s, she was working to develop Bob Marley’s international standing as a musician and songwriter with a message for the world. She had already helped launch Millie (My Boy Lollipop) and convinced Jimmy Cliff that he could operate on a professional stage. The Reggae legend would go on to star in the iconic The Harder They Come, which is being re-released by the BFI on 5 August and screening as part of the Reggae on Film season at BFI Southbank.
Just prior to 1973, Esther had starred alongside acting and directing legend Sidney Poitier in A Warm December. This romantic drama about a holiday romance with a dark secret at its heart was shot in London and starred Anderson and Poitier (who also directed) alongside Earl Cameron, Yvette Curtis and George Barker. The film garnered much attention and a great future as a film actor lay ahead…
Bob Marley: Making of a Legend is Esther’s account of her transformative connection to Bob Marley, prior to his fame. Unsure of which way to go with his career and presenting himself as a Jamaican version of Bob Dylan, Esther steered him towards his own culture, to the island’s history and the rebel Rastafari community, which rejected the values of the colonialism, its religion and materialism. He embraced Rasta ideals of natural living and regard for African history, spirituality and culture, so bitterly denied by enslavement. Her connection with Bob Marley proved so fruitful a creative partnership, she says, that it resulted in the iconic songs, I Shot the Sheriff and Get Up, Stand Up!
Fierce and forcefully independent, Esther had a powerful impact on those around her. The daughter of an architect who grew up in Jamaica, she forged a long-term career in acting for TV and film, following her move to the UK, despite discrimination in the sector. She knew that the stories she wanted to tell would never be supported by the official channels. Jamaican friends in London as well as back home in Jamaica offered support with Bob Marley: Making of a Legend. Some of the offspring of the original Wailers family and Aston Family Man Barrett created an original soundtrack. She even contributed a song herself!
Esther’s creative and long-term partner, architect and filmmaker, Gian Godoy was instrumental in co-directing Bob Marley: Making of a Legend. Returning to Jamaica, he and Esther drew on the familiar faces, places and the rich character of the island. Close friends of Bob and Esther’s, such as the cult-figure of Countryman, Mother Macky (wife of Rasta musician, Bongo Macky) and artist Ras Daniel Hartman also contributed.
During the development of Bob Marley: Making of a Legend, BFI African Odysseys featured an early cut of the film and welcomed the filmmakers for an in conversation with an audience at BFI Southbank. Gian wrote recently about importance of this stage in the making of the film. The screening of the first edit had queues round the block, such was the excitement surrounding the film. It also enabled Gian to move around and gauge the audience’s emotional response; ‘like a sort of open heart surgery’ of his and Esther’s ‘labour of love’. The finished film premiered in 2011 at BFI Southbank and we’re delighted to welcome it and the filmmakers back once again as part of the Reggae on Film season.
The screening on 30 August at of Bob Marley: Making of a Legend at the BFI Southbank will include a Q&A with Esther Anderson and her co-director, Gian Godoy. From Jamaica to the World: Reggae on Film, curated by writer Lloyd Bradley, is at BFI Southbank and on BFI Player throughout August.