The Price of Memory – Rastafari vs the British Monarchy for Slavery Reparations

From Price of Memory
From Price of Memory

Before Pan-Africanism and reparations for the horrors of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which many social scientists believe remains to haunt the dilapidated socio economic and cultural life of the Caribbean, became fashionable in academic and political circles, it was the Rastafari and a few other outcasts who championed these causes.

Now that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) no less–that bonds primarily Anglophone Caribbean territories and now Haiti and Suriname, in an economic cooperation and integration  movement–has made reparations a marquee issue, it’s only fitting that homage be paid to those fore runners in the struggle in The Price of Memory, Jamaica’s first feature documentary film on slavery reparations, directed by Jamaican filmmaker Karen Marks Mafundikwa. (For a contrasting view see Reparations Campaign Distracts From Challenges Facing the Caribbean )

It took Mafundikwa, approximately 12 years to complete her cathartic work that is now enjoying a series of award winning premiers in the Caribbean and Africa.

“[The film] follows a group of Rastafari who petitioned Queen Elizabeth II for slavery reparations on her visit to Jamaica in 2002, and a lawsuit for slavery reparations filed against the Queen,” said Mafundikwa as she prepared for a September 21 premiere at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival in Port of Spain, where it has been nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Award. There will be a second screening on September 28 at Trinidad’s Movietowne.

“It recounts the story of earlier Rastas who pursued reparations and repatriation in the 1960s on an official mission to Africa to organize repatriation,” she said.

Abeng News magazine conducted an email interview with Mafundikwa, which we present here:

Abeng News Mag: What motivated you to make the film?

Karen Marks Mafundikwa: I wanted to make a film about the legacy of slavery in Jamaica because I grew up in Jamaica aware of the visible ruins of slavery all around me. In my hometown of Montego Bay there are places which we connect with slavery.

Sam Sharpe Square which is the town square where 500 slaves were hanged for rebellion is a place I passed through several times weekly; Rose Hall Great House which is a famous house siting on a former plantation, The Cage where slaves were jailed…I grew up with an awareness of the remnants of slavery  all around me.

I also loved history growing up and excelled at it, so I was aware of the legacy of slavery as long as I can remember. It is therefore natural that I would make a film exploring it.

The question of reparations was in the news a lot internationally, when I first started the film and the notion of reparations from a Caribbean perspective had not been told. I was intrigued and decided to explore it in a film.

ANM: Why did it take so long to complete?

KMM: It took a long time to complete because of the complexity of the story and the vast history of slavery and its aftermath which I was grappling with. I had to look at reparations from the perspective of the country of  Jamaica.

I also looked at it from the Rastafari perspective, being in the vanguard of the movement which is also complex. I looked at the British legacy, the royal family, etc. It took time to research, decide what I would focus on, build the relationships to enable me to complete the work.

All of this took time for me to absorb and decide how to tell it in an interesting way which would not come across like an academic thesis. Editing was long and tedious at times. Also, people weren’t exactly lining up to fund a film like this. I had to raise funding, use my own money, etc.

ANM: Where was it shot (locations)?

KMM: It was shot on location in Jamaica and in England.

ANM:: What were the experiences/challenges during production?

KMM: I was living in New York when I started it so I had to find money to travel back and forth to Jamaica. I did it for the first 2 years solely with my own money until I got artist grant supporting the work. Money was a major challenge, but I pressed on.

I made the film one of the major priorities in my life at the time, so I had to make sacrifices to finance the film.

Getting interviews and access took a while until people got to know me and trusted me. After a while when people saw my persistence and that I was still at it, it got easier in terms of getting access.

Creatively, I also grappled with condensing a vast amount of very heavy information about slavery into a work that someone can watch within a reasonable time frame. In this case it’s 83 minutes.

However, production was at times exhilarating, such as when somebody told you something you wouldn’t have heard if you hadn’t built a relationship with them, such as when Ras Lion told me about the stories of slavery in his family.

Also, when I found rare archival footage or when I finally got the last interview of the three Rastafari who went on a self-funded mission to Africa in the 1960s. I interviewed all three over a period of  years apart.

Being behind a camera gives you access into people’s lives in a way you would never have it normally. People will tell you things they wouldn’t normally mention.

As an artist and someone who began my career in journalism, you have to respect the person, be fair and be very careful in your portrayal. It is a constant balancing act. Even when I disagreed I knew the more I put of people who had different opinions from [mine], the more engaging the film would be.

ANM: How is it available for those who’d like to view it?

KMM: The Price of Memory is currently on the film festival circuit. We are organizing a tour of the UK and also a US tour in early 2015. Like us on Facebook for updates of when we’ll be in your area or invite us to your area.

ANM: What medium is it available on (DVD?)

KMM: It is not yet available on DVD as we are still doing film festivals and organizing screenings. You may contact us for educational screenings, tours, etc. We will announce when DVDs are available via Facebook. (ends)

The Price of Memory features appearances by Queen Elizabeth II, attorney Michael Lorne, reparations advocate Barbara Blake Hannah, academics Prof. Verene Shepherd and Dr. Clinton Hutton, as well as Rastafari elders including Ras Lion, Sam Clayton, Philmore Alvaranga and Douglas Mack.

The film was an official selection of Pan African Film Festival 2014 in Los Angeles and at Africa in Motion Film Festival 2014 in Glasgow, where it was part of a special program during the Commonwealth Games, on the legacy of the Commonwealth.

Mafundikwa previously produced and co-wrote the documentary feature film Shungu: The Resilience of a People, following ordinary people in Zimbabwe during economic crisis and political stalemate.

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

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