The NGJ is planning to develop a Caribbean film programme and, eventually also, collection and as our first steps in this direction, we have started integrating film screenings into our Last Sundays programme. We started with Storm Saulter’s Better Mus’ Come in January and have continued today with an earlier Jamaican film Dickie Jobson’s Countryman (1982). Below is Nicole Smythe-Johnson’s introduction to the film and its relevance to the themes of the Natural Histories exhibition.
You could describe Countryman (1982) as one of two things, depending on how generous you’re feeling. You could call it a B movie … or you could call it an arthouse film. To my mind, those descriptions are equally appropriate, though the self-proclaimed “a bush movie’ is probably best.
This is a ninety-minute, overtly low budget film made in Jamaica in 1982. Though there is some gratuitous nudity – early in the film, the female lead (Kristina St Clair) surrenders her blouse to be used as a weapon against an alligator, revealing her bountiful bosom – a great deal else is happening here. There are the stunning vistas, mystical aspects and a narrative that is almost anti-progress, unusual in early 80s Jamaica. For me, all this does not fully emancipate Countryman from B movie status but makes it endearingly so. In the vein of other cult classics such as The Little Shop of Horrors or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it is refreshingly off-beat.
The director of the film- the late, great Richard ”Dickie” Jobson – was a close friend of both Perry Henzell and Chris Blackwell. So Countryman is very much part of that moment of indigenous film exploration that produced the earlier and more popular The Harder They Come (1972). Born in St Ann, Jobson lived in England for much of his life working with the Island group of companies, including a stint as Bob Marley’s manager. Countryman was Jobson’s only feature film, though at the time of his death in December 2008 he was said to be working on a screenplay based on Bob Marley’s song Mr Brown.
There are a few important things to know before entering this screening. First, Countryman is based on a real person – a Hellshire fisherman of the same name – who was something of a pop figure at the time. The fictive Countryman is played by the real Countryman, who still lives in Hellshire today. We tried to get him to come but were unable to get in touch with him. Secondly, for the parents and guardians, there are some depictions of marijuana use and, as I mentioned, a few scenes of mild nudity. Third, this film is being screened as a supplement to the Natural Histories exhibition. We ask you to consider it as a work of art, in conversation with the other works exhibited here today.
To encourage that process, consider the following:
Where most Jamaican films focus on urban blight, crime and political tribalism, Countryman looks at the mystical aspects of Jamaican popular culture. Though the film does treat some political themes, the political is viewed exclusively through the lens of the mystical. The mysticism portrayed here is not monolithic either; there is a demarcation between the nature-derived and aligned powers of Countryman and that of Obeah, here associated with the un-dead. An interesting (if problematic) distinction I think. Finally, in viewing a film like Countryman, an artist like Everald Brown comes to mind. The belief in the mystical aspects of nature, portrayed in paintings like Duppy Cotton Tree and Bush Have Ears (both of which are exhibited in Natural Histories) – is more the subject of this film than the elections that loom in the story’s background. This is a welcome change, as well as a further illustration of the important role that natural mysticism and nature in general have always played in Jamaica’s visual and narrative history.
I invite you to step into Countryman’s world and experience this important part of Jamaica’s artistic and filmic heritage. Stay afterwards for a 12 minute mini-documentary featuring interviews with Dickie Jobson, Producer Chris Blackwell, the now middle-aged Countryman and other members of the cast.