It’s 2012, the dawn of a brand-new year. For many, it’s a time to make New Year’s resolutions. For the Jamaican-born Hollywood stuntman Roy T. Anderson, who is making his directorial debut with “Akwantu: The Journey,” his resolution is to work on getting his exceptional 95-minute feature documentary about the Jamaican Maroons into as many international film festivals as possible.
“I just want to turn it out,” Anderson commented during a telephone conversation a few minutes after arriving with his wife, Allison, in Florida from his home state of New Jersey for a New Year’s getaway on Dec. 29. “I started the cameras rolling on the project in 2009…I want to get the word out there.”
“I am hopeful that exposure at the film festivals will lead to a distribution deal,” said Anderson, who is also the producer and writer of “Akwantu.” The film took him three years to make.
“For too long, Maroons have been Jamaica’s best-kept secret. Their history should be celebrated-the time is now,” said Anderson, a descendant of the renowned heroic freedom fighters, the African Maroons of Jamaica.
Born in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, Anderson relocated to Toronto, Canada, when he was 11. Years later, in his adopted country, he began his illustrious 25-year career as a stuntman/stunt coordinator, doubling for such Hollywood icons as Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx.
The award-winning stuntman has appeared in such major blockbuster movies as “Shaft,” “Spider-Man 2” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” as well as such top-rated TV shows as “Law & Order,” “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire.” Anderson is also a world record holder, with the distinguishing feat of leaping 28 feet between two tall Toronto buildings in 1990.
Now in 2012, on the 4,213-square-mile island of Jamaica, Anderson’s “Akwantu” is one of the officially endorsed cultural products of this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. As a “Jamaica 50 Endorsed Event,” selected by the Jamaican Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the groundbreaking film will kick off with a VIP screening on June 17. Other planned events include a photo exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston, the nation’s capital, and a June 22 screening of the film in the historic Maroon community of Charles Town, Portland, during the fourth annual Maroon Conference.
“I never planned for the film to coincide with the nation’s 50th anniversary celebration,” Anderson said. “It was all synergy…everything aligning. For me to be a part of this yearlong anniversary is amazing. Having ‘Akwantu’ out at this time will be great for Jamaica and our culture. The movie will promote and provoke dialogue, and it will be great for the economy.”
This was evident as the close of 2011 drew near, when from Dec. 14 to 21 Anderson found himself in Jamaica for a flurry of promotional activities around his film. Primary among them was a media launch at the Institute of Jamaica Lecture Hall, which featured a sneak preview of the film.
It received high accolades from those in attendance, including Anderson’s ardent supporter Frank Lumsden, colonel of the Charles Town Maroons, and Jamaica’s minister of culture and entertainment, who commended Anderson for his “courage and resilience in completing the film.”
In turn, Anderson shared the extremely emotional process of tracing his family tree and discovering that his ancestors were Maroons. The discovery made him even more determined to make the film, driving him to not only write, direct and produce “Akwantu,” but to fund the film himself.
“The film was independently funded because I wanted to tell the story freely…I aimed for objectivity and telling it as it is.” Speaking candidly, Anderson added, “It would be a plus to have members of corporate Jamaica coming on board to push the film onwards.”
Reflecting on the reaction to the film at the preview, Anderson said, “The response at the preview was overwhelming. People wanted to see more-people felt ‘Akwantu’ should be in the schools as part of a curriculum.”
Which takes us back to Anderson’s 2012 resolution. “I hope to show the film at more than 25 international festivals, including the Toronto, Tribeca and Cannes film festivals as well as several on the African continent.”
Through “Akwantu,” Anderson wants to introduce audiences to the noble Maroons of Jamaica; people who are often referred to as the Spartacus of their time-except that these enslaved Africans were victorious in their fight for freedom.”
Note: On Dec. 29, the same day of my interview with Roy T. Anderson, Jamaica held its general election with the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) vying for the coveted position to lead the country. Later that evening it was announced that former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her PNP had won the highly publicized, closely watched election.
The Caribbean Lingo column pays tribute to Caribbean Diaspora artists and art forms of the highest caliber. To contact us, please email icadRSVP@aol.com