"33 and Me"

in Jamaica

The last time I wrote a major update was back in May, when I was comfortably quarantined in northern New Mexico, embarking on the "33 and Me" Iran-from-home episode.  We ended up meeting some fabulous and bold filmmakers in Iran via video chats.  All in all we interviewed about seven different Iranian filmmakers for our special "quarantine episode" of "33 and Me."

Written by Stephanie Gardner

Now, four-to-five months later, we are back on the road filming for "33 and Me."  We are in Jamaica filming our 18th episode!  

Our time in Jamaica has been even better than expected.  Though you may not realize it from the footage or pictures (we often take off our masks for the camera), Jamaica has been relatively diligent in terms of Covid care (compared to much of the U.S. at least) and masks are consistently worn in public, at least in the major cities.  All hotels and establishments require masks be worn and most places you cannot enter without first getting your hands sanitized and your temperatures checked.  In order to fly here, we needed a negative covid test in advance of our flight and as soon as we landed, we had a full health examination and they did 3 covid tests upon arrival (both nostrils and a mouth swab).  Most travelers are required to quarantine for 2 weeks even after that, but because we are on a business visa and have a film permit, we were free to film after our negative results and a 72 hour quarantine. 

Our base in Jamaica has been Kingston, where the majority of Jamaican filmmakers live and work.  Our main filmmaker is Stacy Ann Sutherland, or SAS as she is known by her friends.  She is a single mom, proudly raising her adorable just-turned two-year-old son, "King," while working as an all-in-one Director-shooter-editor for commercials, music videos, series and documentaries.

With SAS we visited Fleet Street in Kingston where the Paint Jamaica and Life Yard programs are trying to inspire inner city neighborhoods with the creative arts and sustainable farming initiatives.  Read more about Paint Jamaica HERE.

In this episode, in addition to exploring the lives, stories and film work of 33-year-old Jamaican filmmakers, we are also exploring the impact of foreign films shot in Jamaica throughout history.  The James Bond character was born in Jamaica and the very first Bond novel to be adapted to film, Dr. No, was shot here in 1961, and released in 1962, the same year Jamaica got its independence from Britain.

Subsequent Bond films to be shot in Jamaica include Roger Moore's debut in "Live and Let Die" and the as-of-yet to be released newest Bond film, "No Time To Die."  



We even stayed on the property, "GoldenEye" in Oracabessa, where Ian Fleming lived and wrote all 14 Bond novels!  We were able to tour his former villa.  The property is now owned by Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell (who incidentally was the location scout for "Dr. No" among other films set in Jamaica) and nearby is playwright Noel Coward's former home as well.  An  inspiring coastal village, indeed!

We have visited many of the locations that these Bond films were shot at, in addition to exploring locations for films such as Tom Cruise's 1988 flick "Cocktail," Brook Shield's breakout film, "Blue Lagoon," Denzel Washington's caribbean thriller, "A Mighty Quinn" (1989) and the 1998 romantic comedy, "When Stella Got Her Groove Back" (1998).

Filmmaking has been happening in Jamaica since at least 1916, when the highest budgeted US produced film ever shot in Jamaica and allegedly brought camels to the island as it was set in the middle east.  $1 million USD to produce "A Daughter of The Gods" ... 1916!

We visited the National Library of Jamaica and spoke with Mr. Rolforde Johnston about the preservation of old films, which the Jamaica library has initiated with the support of Japanese funding.  They are preserving and digitizing old news reels, speeches, and films to make it easier for scholars and a curious public to access.

On our two days "off" from filming, we even managed to squeeze in an overnight hike of the famed Blue Mountains, arriving at the peak in time for sunrise.  Though not as tall as Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, much of the terrain is steeper and more strenuous.  We saw beautiful views along the way, admired the coffee fields from above, hiked through rainforest and cloud forest climates and had fun getting to know our local guide, Maurice.

Now we are in Negril experiencing the location where Disney's 1954 adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was filmed.

As you can see, tourism is at an all time low.  There is nobody on the beaches and we are one of two rooms occupied in the entire hotel.  This is especially challenging for the life on the island because the economy of Jamaica is heavily reliant on the tourism industry.

On our return to Kingston next week, we will be speaking with the daughter of Perry Henzell, Jamaica's most notorious film director who helped spread Reggae across the world through his 1972 cult classic film, "The Harder They Come," starring Jimmy Cifff.  We visited the house in Kingston where much of this film was made, and where the director and his family lived.  It is now a community arts center, movie theatre/stage, art gallery, cafe and marijuana dispensary.

As you can see, it's been an enriching visit for us in Jamaica thus far and as we continue the "33 and Me" journey through this world.  For more information about The "33 and Me" Film Project visit www.33andMeFilms.com