Keeper of the flame
Justine Henzell protecting her father’s legacy
This month marks 40 years since the release of Perry Henzell's sensational movie The Harder They Come, which helped introduce Jamaican pop culture to the world. This week, the Jamaica Observer presents a series of stories on the film's impact and persons who were involved with it.
IT has been six years since filmmaker Perry Henzell died, but his daughter Justine will tell you that she works with him everyday.
"People often ask me if I miss him and I usually tell them he's always with me, we argue everyday. We don't always agree so sometimes he wins, sometimes I do," she declares.
This solid father/daughter bond, nurtured over many years, has seen her become the keeper of the flame as it relates to her father's legacy, especially his cult classic, The Harder They Come, which first swept onto screens and into the hearts of millions 40 years ago.
"I was fairly young when the film was being made, but Daddy worked out of home, so I remember that he was working on something. One of my early recollections is sitting on the floor in the editing room — which was the only room with air-conditioning in the house — and picking up ends of film as they fell to the floor. But the importance of The Harder They Come, and what it would mean for Jamaican film and music would not hit me until many years later," says Henzell.
She currently oversees all things relating to the film, including requests for screenings at film festivals worldwide, adding that she gets at least two requests per month.
The Henzell family are about to undertake the most ambitious project as it relates to The Harder They Come — a remake.
But why a remake?
"There could not be a sequel, as the main character Ivan was killed in a hail of bullets in the final scenes of the original. However, we feel that this 1970s film can be reproduced, set in modern day, and still tell an equally compelling story," she explains.
And how does she feel about criticism that the authenticity of the original could be lost in a remake?
Again, the strong bond with her father comes through:
"I know him so well. I understand his perspectives and point of view, and so as keeper of the legacy I feel it is up to us to carry out his wishes properly," she says.
"There can never be another The Harder They Come like the original. So for those who can't see through a remake, we are aware. The truth is, protecting the value of the work is most important to us, the family, but we are willing to try."
Filming for the remake is set to start next year, but Henzell is extremely guarded on revealing any details.
She does not want to say who is reworking the script originally penned by her father and the late author and screenwriter Trevor Rhone.
As for who will play the lead character Ivan, which was brought to life by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, Henzell says, "I have my eye on someone, but I'm not ready to say. Keeping that close to my chest right now."
This is not the first take on Perry Henzell's film. The year 1980 saw the novelisation of the film by writer Michael Thelwell, who further developed characters, while keeping the essence of the work.
The year Perry Henzell died, 2006, saw the opening of the stage production in the United Kingdom. The script for this work was overseen by Henzell himself, and it was first staged at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London. It would later move to the Playhouse Theatre in London's famous West End, and has toured Toronto and Miami.
"We are hoping to bring this production to Jamaica or stage it with local actors at some point," says Justine Henzell. "However, the serious lack of space the likes of the Ward Theatre creates a challenge."