Q&A with Academy Award winner and director of Marley, Kevin Macdonald
Academy Award winning director Kevin Macdonald (“A Day in September” and “The Last King of Scotland”), recently gave Sound Colour Vibration a few moments of his time while promoting his new film Marley, the definitive and family authorized documentary on the life of Bob Marley. Macdonald was off the coast of Venezuela on the small island of Curacuo and was more than gracious to chat with us about some of the finer details that surround his latest film Marley. Macdonald was very enthusiastic about his new film. This interview was filled with very a positive dialogue regarding the task of telling the tale of a great man. Clearly Kevin did not come into the position for a paycheck; his genuine love to uncover truth and re tell it to a large audience is undeniable and actually led him to rediscover his love for the musician as well. I enjoyed the time I spent conversing with him and I feel that this interview will allow our readers some insight towards the man who harnessed all of Bob Marley’s confidants, family and bandmates to tell the most intimate story made on the man to date.
“This man has this impact that goes on. He’s unlike any other popular musician. His impact, which is more than just being musical, it’s spiritual, it’s political. He’s a spokesman for the dispossessed [...]“
Kevin MacDonald Q&A With Sound Colour Vibration
Conducted By Jason Hedge
JH: Which members of the Marley family did you have the closest relationship with during the whole process of creating Marley?
KM: I guess the person who took point as it were was Ziggy Marley, whose Bob’s eldest son. I think it was kind of a personal passion of his to get this film and to have a film that was very personal and intimate made that was about Bob. Bob the man rather than Bob the myth.
JH: Did he give you any key points that he (Ziggy) wanted to emphasize?
KM: No, I’ve made rock and roll films before; I made one about Mick Jagger before and I’ve had a few scrapes with authority in those films and so I’m pretty wise about making sure I get to make the film I want to make. Ziggy was very enthusiastic to take part and very helpful in giving us family photographs and footage and helping get the other family involved. But he didn’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t say.
JH: What type production requirements were needed to capture the essence of Jamaica (the Arial shots), The Slave port in Ghana and the Footage of Bavaria?
KM: Well we shot this film on every format going for one reason or another. So the slave Fort at the beginning was in Ghana; it’s incredibly hot and humid there. We were worried about taking digital cameras so we shot that on 16mm because 35 was too bulky and heavy to carry over. We had a small documentary team so we shot that on Super16, you can see the grain there but it looks rather beautiful. It’s good at coping with those extreme contrast changes. Also, we shot some of the interviews on the Red camera, some of them on the Alexa and some of them on the Canon 5D. Than we shot bits and pieces on 35mm as well just for fun. Than the aerials were shot by a London company, excellent guys, called Flying Pictures. They’ve done Harry Potter and they’ve done War Horse. They have a small portable kit that you can fly pretty much anywhere in the world and one guys comes out with it on his own and works with a local helicopter pilot and that was how they captured those gorgeous shots. We were very lucky, we shot early in the morning then late in the afternoon with beautiful low light. We were lucky with real clarity which often you don’t get in the tropics, you get a sort of hazy like but we were very lucky.
JH: Where were you as a Bob Marley fan prior to making this film? Where were you during production as a fan? Where are you now as a fan? Do you have a favorite Bob Marley album?
KM: I was bit of a fan when I was a kid, when I was a teenager. One of the first handfuls of albums I ever bought was Uprising. I was struck, growing up in the Scottish wilderness as I did, by the melodies and sucked in by the melodies but kept listening because of the depth and rebelliousness, I suppose, of the lyrics and the lyrical content. Than there was always that mystical and the Rasta side, which I didn’t really understand. You know, whose Jah? Whose Halie Selassie? But maybe that gave it more of a mystique. Later in my life, I wasn’t a huge fan, I wasn’t the kind of person who would collect everything and listen to everything and watch everything. I liked it but I think everybody likes Bob Marley and really, I became more interested in him the person and in the legacy of him. When I was in Kampala in Uganda making a film called The Last King of Scotland, I went to the slums and I was introduced to all these Rastas and saw all these Bob Marley murals on the wall and I thought this is amazing.
This man has this impact that goes on. He’s unlike any other popular musician. His impact, which is more than just being musical, it’s spiritual, it’s political. He’s a spokesman for the dispossessed, so that was sort of fascinating to me. Than when I had the opportunity to make this film; I had already tried once before about seven or eight years ago, to make a film congenitally that had to do with Bob. It was going to be about Bob’s 60th birthday celebrations which were happening in Ethiopia and I was going to go with a plane load of Rastafarian’s out to Ethiopia from Jamaica and obviously just observe how they responded to being in Africa for the first time. What the reality of Ethiopia was like for them and also record some of the concert. That film didn’t happen but I got to know a few people including Chris Blackwell, Diane Jobson Bob’s lawyer. It was through them that I was recommended to the producer of this film a man called Steve Bing, who had negotiated and purchased the rights to the music to make a Bob Marley documentary from the Marley family and from Universal Music. I suppose I was a little bit skeptical about Bob going into the film.
I felt, and maybe a lot of people do, he’d been commodified to such an extent that something had been lost but as I got more and more into the research, as I learned more I began to admire him more and more. I began to see him as a very admirable man, as somebody who was not a hypocrite, who had never sold out really. He gave a lot of his money away, he slept in a single bed, he lived in a commune with the rest of his band, you know, all of that. And the way he was driven really by spiritual values, driven by the desire to get his music heard by a wide audience. I admire that rather than being driven by money and pure celebrity. So I began to admire him more and more. I began to listen to the music more and more and I think that’s the biggest testament I can say about Bob is the more you find out more about him the more you’re interested in him, the more you want to listen to the music. So I find myself by the end of the project listening to his music constantly, non stop.
The albums I like the best: Uprising, obviously because it’s the first one I heard but also I grew to love the material he did in the late 60′s, early 70′s. The slightly lesser known Marley, you know before Island Records. And probably the Soul Revolution album, I really like, which is produced by “Scarcth” Perry.
JH: If you were releasing the directors cut; what footage or interview(s) would you add to the film?
KM: That’s complicated. Well my first cut of this was over three hours long and I was contracted to make a two hour or less film but fortunately the producer and everyone agreed the best film was the important thing. Let’s make the film the best length so we ended up with this long film, two hours and twenty five minutes but it felt like we went through such an effort. We discovered so much stuff, wither it be footage or new versions of songs or just what people had to say to us. About a third of the interviewees had never spoken before in public about Bob. There was so much stuff it felt like nobodies going to get the chance to make this film again. I want to make it authoritative, I want to include as much as I can. So that’s what I did. I didn’t leave out that much. There are some things, there are a lot of great anecdotes of course that are going to be on the cutting room forever but I’ve actually included a lot on the DVD extras so there’s three or four songs from a previously unseen concert, there’s twenty minutes for of interview with Bunny Wailer, talking mostly what it was like working in the early days at Studio One. There’s more interviews with the family, with some of the kids. There’s a eight or nine minute song where Bob is creating a song and he’s jamming and he’s messing around with a couple of girls who he’s flirting with. You hear the real Bob, the off the record Bob, flirting with these girls creating a song in the spur of the moment in this kind of magical piece of audio. There’s a lot of things I’ve put on there so because of that, because of the wonders of the DVD extra, I don’t feel like I’m missing that much.
Marley will be screening by way of On Demand and the following theaters. This is a must see film for anyone who is looking to deepen their understanding of Bob Marley and the values, insights, revelations and virtues he instilled and contributed to this world.
Tempe, AZ: Valley Art 1 Theatre
Berkeley, CA: Shattuck Cinemas 10
Claremont, CA: Claremont 5
Los Angeles, CA: Cinefamily
North Hollywood, CA: Laemmle NoHo 7
Pasadena, CA: Playhouse 7 Cinemas
San Francisco, CA: Lumiere Theatre 3
San Jose, CA: Camera 3
San Rafael, CA: Smith Rafael Film Center
Santa Ana, CA: South Coast Village 3
Santa Cruz, CA: Nickelodeon Theatres
West Los Angeles, CA: The Landmark 12
Boulder, CO: Boulder Theatre
Denver, CO: Mayan Theatre
Washington, DC: E Street Cinema
Miami, FL: O Cinema
Atlanta, GA: Midtown Art Cinemas 8
Honolulu, HI: Kahala Theatres 8
Chicago, IL: Music Box
Cambridge, MA: Kendall Square Cinema 9
Grand Rapids, MI: Wealthy Theatre
Royal Oak, MI: Main Art Theatre
Minneapolis, MN: Lagoon Cinema
New York, NY: Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center
New York, NY: Sunshine Cinema 5
Portland, OR: Hollywood Theatre
Philadelphia, PA: Ritz at the Bourse
Pittsburgh, PA: Regent Square Theater
Providence, RI: Cable Car Cinema
Nashville, TN: Belcourt Theatre
Austin, TX: Violet Crown Cinemas
Dallas, TX: Angelika Film Center and Cafe
San Antonio, TX: Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro 6
Seattle, WA: Harvard Exit Theatre
New Orleans, LA: Prytania Theatre
Christ Church, BB: Olympus Expo Theatres
Nassau, BH: Galleria Cinema 11
Paramaribo, SR: The Backlot Cinemas
Lowlands, TOB: Movietowne 4
Chaguanas, TRI: Movietowne Chaguanas 10
Port of Spain, TRI: Movietowne Port of Spain 10
San Fernando, TRI: Empire Cinema
Trincity, TRI: Trincity 8
St. John, ANT: Antigua Megaplex 8 Cinemas
Hato Rey, PR: Fine Arts Cafe Cinemas
Basseterre, St. Kitts, VI: St. Kitts Megaplex 7
St Thomas, VI: Market Square East
St. Croix, VI: Sunny Isles Theatre
St. Lucia, VI: Mega Plex 8 @ Choc Estate
Tortola, VI: Up’s Cinemas
Hamilton Hm 12 Bermuda, BM: Liberty Theatre
Madison, WI: Sundance Cinemas 608
Savannah, GA: Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah
Hamilton Hm 12 Bermuda, BM: Neptune Theatre
Long Beach, CA: Art Theater
Fort Collins, CO: Lyric Cinema Cafe 2
Columbia, MO: Ragtag Cinema
Springfield, MO: Moxie Cinema 2
Houston, TX: Sundance Cinemas 8
Tucson, AZ: The Loft Cinema
Durango, CO: Back Space Theatre
Dormont, PA: Hollywood Theatre
Spokane, WA: Magic Lantern Theatre
Portland, ME: Space Gallery
Columbus, OH: Gateway Film Center 8
New York, NY: The Maysles Cinema
Nevada City, CA: Nevada Theatre
Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Albuquerque, NM: Guild
Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Wilkes-Barre, PA: FM Kirby Center for Performing Arts
More dates coming soon!