Justine Henzell and The Harder They Come
Justine Henzell with Perry Henzell at the CalabashInternational Literary Festival.

For anything associated with The Harder They Come, Justine Henzell is the go-to person. With the classic movie celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, she has a full plate of activities.

Henzell's father, Perry Henzell, co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film that helped introduce Jamaican pop culture to a global audience. Perry Henzell died in 2006, but his little film has grown substantially since.

Henzell marshalls oversight of The Harder They Come, including merchandise and a stage adaptation that opened in the United Kingdom 16 years ago.

“It's a great gift when someone you love leaves you a legacy to embrace and celebrate. Perry, Jimmy Cliff and the rest of the amazing cast and crew, which, of course, included his wife Sally, gave Jamaica the first feature film and helped take reggae to the world,” she said. “So much that we take for granted in terms of the global recognition of reggae 50 years later, started in the 70s.”

The Harder They Come premiered at the Carib cinema in June 1972. In June, there will be an exhibition of new visual art and poetry inspired by the movie at the West Kings House, St Andrew home where Perry Henzell created it.

His daughter addressed its impact during her presentation to the annual Bob Marley Symposium at The University of the West Indies in February. Other celebratory activities will be announced soon.

For many years, Justine Henzell has been one of the driving forces behind the Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth. It attracts major names like Sir Derek Walcott, Salman Rushdie and Linton Kwesi Johnson.

A lot of her time has also been spent travelling to promote The Harder They Come, which ranks among moviedom's most acclaimed works.

She feels no pressure keeping the flame her father lit alive.

“Not at all, it has been an honour. My job is to protect the legacy but not to be too precious about it. Its place in history is guaranteed,” said Henzell.

HOWARD CAMPBELL

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