Given your past work, including Girl With A Pearl Earring and Hannibal Rising, this feels like quite an unusual film for you to make…
That’s very true! Finally I got a chance to make a film about something that I’m really passionate about, that’s personal to me, and is about the music I’ve loved since I was 15, 16 years old. Music has always been important to me, and I’ve made documentaries about it before, but I’ve never touched on reggae at all, so it was a great joy to finally visit Jamaica, hang out with these musicians, and listen to this album being recorded.
What are your earliest memories of listening to reggae?
I grew up in West London and there’s a large West Indian community there – there’s something in the air. You’d hear reggae coming out of some of the small shops, and you had the Notting Hill Carnival, which I’d always go to. But as a teenage punk rocker, I bought the first Clash album, and there was a cover of Police And Thieves, which just blew me away because it was a mixture of the punk music I loved and the music I was always hearing around me. So that gave me an in, and then I went off to try and find more. From there it just snowballed – I really fell in love with the genre and spent all of my pocket money acquiring a collection I still have to this day.
When did you first visit Jamaica?
I never actually visited when I was younger, despite being completely obsessed with the music, because I was worried I’d have a regular tourist experience. The Jamaica in my head was built up from everything I’d learnt from the music, and I didn’t want to get off a plane and end up sitting in a tourist hotel for two weeks, so I never went. Then when I finally got to go to make this film, it was heaven for me because I got to go to the places and meet the people that informed my love of this music.
What was that trip like?
When you’re in England, specifically London, you get a little flavour of what Jamaica might be like, but it’s nothing compared to when you get there, and you’re immersed in it. With the film I wanted people to feel like they’d been on the same journey I did – I wanted to show the sights and sounds and give people a real sense for the place. Because there’s a very beautiful side of Kingston, but there’s also a dark, scary side too, with poverty and deprivation, and I wanted to show the good and the troublesome things that I saw. Even though I don’t feature it in the film, you see the island and these people through my eyes, and I’m taking you on the same journey of discovery that I went on.
How did you decide that you wanted to use the album recording as a way to explore reggae more broadly in Jamaica?
Given that the musicians were recording and were going on tour we had a structure, but then before we started recording I spent time with the musicians just working out what the story was and how we could tell it, and the kind of film it would be. Once I built some trust with the guys I started thinking about their contrasting personalities – but I love the music, and I’m very nosey. That, combined with being in the right place at the right time meant I was really lucky. I just had to watch my inner-fanboy because I shot some scenes which were definitely more for me than for a general audience.
What made you decide to stay behind the camera completely and not feature your voice or face at all?
Well, no one gives a s*** about me – and nor should they. It’s my job to go over there and make something that will captivate and entertain and inform people – and delight them I hope. This film is about love and positive energy – and you don’t need a middle-aged white man telling you how to think or feel about any of it. I really wanted to provide a platform for these musicians to tell their own stories, in their own words, and although I made the film, it’s really an oral history which captures their voices in an authentic way. That meant I had to get out of the way. None of us are gonna be around forever, and there’s a sense that this film is capturing these voices while we still can.
Inna De Yard is in cinemas from 30 August