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Director Kevin Macdonald began an incredible journey in which he explored the life and influence of musician and legend Bob Marley. Macdonald began the film because he wanted to learn more about how Marley influenced the world. The director stated, “the question I wanted to answer in making the film, was: Why does he still speak to people around the world (because it’s clear that he does) and why does he speak to people so much more profoundly than any other rock artist or popular music artist….What I was fascinated to try to do in this film was to make something very personal. Who is this man? Why did he become so successful? What was the message that he had to give out to people?” Macdonald began the film by talking to Marley’s family and friends, but not everyone supported the film.
In March 2010, Macdonald received a phone call from the producers at Shangri-La Entertainment to tell him that they – including Shangri-La founder Steve Bing – were committed to making the definitive movie about Marley, and that Chris Blackwell had recommended him as a possible director. Macdonald says that he has now come to believe that he was simply destined to be the man to tell this unforgettable story.
“What is to be must be – that old saying is something that we really believe in,” says Bob’s oldest son, David “Ziggy” Marley. “So Kevin was supposed to do the documentary, is how we look at it. I wasn’t worried, I wasn’t fussing….I knew it would get done, and I knew it would get done by whoever was supposed to do it in the first place.”
And so, Macdonald would begin the process of working with the Marley family – chiefly Ziggy, his sister Cedella (named for Bob’s mother), and their mother, Bob’s wife, Rita Marley.
“The attitude I had,” Macdonald remembers, “was to persuade them nothing good has really been made in terms of a documentary about Bob, and now was the time to do it before even more people pass away. That’s what I said to Ziggy when I first met him – I said, ‘I want to do the most conventional thing possible. I want to go out with a camera and interview absolutely everybody. I’m not going to just stick with who they’ve talked to before.’…. A problem with a lot of the big stars – in particular Bob because he’s almost got this image of a prophet – is that people forget to ask the personal questions – what was his family like? His father? Why was he like he was? Why was he so driven?”
Of course to aid his compelling narrative, Macdonald has used some of the great Bob Marley material – including “Exodus,” “No Woman, No Cry” – in addition to a few obscure but illuminating discoveries. But he discovered that, despite yeoman work by seasoned archival researcher Sam Dwyer, there was precious little material to be found, either from the musician’s youth, or from his fledgling years as a reggae performer.
“Obviously one of the challenges with Bob is that there’s so little great archive footage,” said Macdonald. “There’s nothing at all of the first 11 years of his career. From 1962 to 1973 there’s not a single piece of footage, and only a handful of photographs.”
Case in point: The Wailers, the breakthrough group that Bob formed with Peter Tosh and Neville “Bunny” Livingston, once simultaneously had five of the top 10 singles on the Jamaican charts early in their career, yet despite their relative prominence at the time, the interest and infrastructure necessary to chronicle their career was simply lacking.
“It just shows a lot about what Jamaica was like then,” said Macdonald, “and what the standing of Jamaican music was as well – that nobody filmed the Wailers, nor, for many years, took them seriously.”
So in interviewing some 60 people, with maybe half of those interviews being cut into the film, the director had Marley’s ongoing legacy in mind: “That’s history that can go into the archive.” With what he does include in the film, Macdonald lets Bob’s story be told by the voices of those who knew him best.
Macdonald credits Bunny as one of two key interview subjects included in the film, who guide the audience through the film – especially Bunny, who knew Bob since they were children, and whose recollections take the audience through until 1973, and the split in the band. After that, the chief narrative duties are taken over by Neville Garrick, the Wailers’ artistic director, who was with Bob through the remainder of his life. Garrick was, like Bunny, “very articulate and inventive with language,” Macdonald recalls. “Both of them were very fun to listen to.”
Given the mixed feelings many Jamaican performers, and the Rastafarians especially, have about the music business culture they came up in, enlisting Bunny and some others was no simple task. “It took us many, many months. He was suspicious and felt the story of the original Wailers had not been told accurately in the past. And he feels that, as the last survivor of the Wailers, he wants to shape that history, understandably, because he feels he, and the story, have been misrepresented. It took a long time to persuade him that we wanted to make a fair and balanced film, and the people putting up the money to make the film don’t actually have the final say. This is a completely independent project.
Image Courtesy of Bob Marley