RiseUP is a poignant ode to the heartbeat of Jamaica -- reggae, the music of the streets that frames our culture and indeed, the world's perception of our island nation.
Through breathtaking cinematography and a stirring soundtrack, RiseUP unfolds the story of three youths -- Kemoy Reid, Michael 'Ice' Lewis and Sheldon 'Turbulence' Campbell -- who, though from very different sides of the track, have the same dreams of pursuing their musical ambitions.
Scenes depicting ghetto life are rich and palpable, and it's almost as if the smells of stagnant water, animal carcasses being prepared as food and the rising puffs of smoke à la 'spliff' dance under one's nostrils.
There is, too, the stark contrast of an existence above Constant Spring, where Beamers leisurely roll along paved roads, lawns are immaculately manicured and privileged children are eager to hit the big time in a genre that frowns upon their well-heeled background.
RiseUP is a prolonged visual thesis on honesty, adversity and triumph all at the same time... welcome to Jamaica's underground music scene.
"The communication here in Jamaica is very unique; the people here are very expressive, their honesty is something very real and it makes for great filming," shares Luciano Blotta, director of RiseUP on which affable Montego Bay businessman Mark Hart -- who hosted a stylish champagne-popcorn-filled private screening of the movie for the first time in Jamaica on Wednesday (incidentally, the same day Cannes Film Festival opened) at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre -- is credited as executive producer.
Blotta's comments are borne out in his near eight-year project (years of groundwork included) that beautifully juxtaposes local realities. So much so, that within just mere minutes of watching the film, it's easy to why RiseUP is poised to be the voice of the dancehall generation and (finally) a most worthy successor of the 1970s cult-classic The Harder They Come, long thought of as the greatest Jamaican film.
The mash of life, art and dreams that is RiseUP opens with a montage of ghetto communities, to the effect of showing the city's brutal edge, its raw sexuality (yes, there are daggering scenes too) and tougher-than-nails allure. Through rude boy-turned-rasta Turbulence with his Higher Trod band of 'bredrins' and church-going ingénue Kemoy's stories, the audience gets a sense of community where, as Professor Barry Chevannes notes in his work Jamaican Diasporic Identity, "the yard and the street combine in a sort of creative tension to generate in this young, lovable, but disturbing city".
RiseUP is striking, too, because of its layered, incongruous textures: There's the righteous rasta man who talks piety, yet there lingers a kind of menace in his words; or the naive gospel-singing girl, who wants nothing more than life in the secular limelight (fuelled by her insatiable appetite for Ghetto Sting)... far from her rickety village in Clarendon. And then, there's the poor little rich boy, who is willing to forego his 'proper' background for 'street cred' and the chance to be 'rated' DJ.
"I could have been a doctor or lawyer," Ice says to the camera in one scene, "but I chose music."
But despite the very oxymoronic nature of their individual stories, Blotta manages to permeate the façades to find a universal truth... wanting more is an intrinsic human quality.
What's more, the film, unlike the typical 'rock doc', doesn't employ narration -- a deliberate attempt on Blotta's part to keep the piece as objective as possible.
"Throughout edits, people suggested I tell the story, but it wasn't mine to tell... it was their story and I wanted my audience to understand that."
By all indications his wish is achieved and the beauty of truth within these very different stories is clear.
The beauty of the story and endearing characters aside, RiseUP features a host of cameos including legendary producer/musician Lee 'Scratch' Perry (who elicited screams from the audience when he appeared on screen), famed production-duo Sly and Robbie, celebrated vocalist Suzanne Couch and underground guitar czar Brushy One String, among others.
The hour-and-a-half-long film is scheduled for local theatres later this year.