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Bob Marley director: Documentary will return to musician's slave roots

February 8, 2011 |  7:14 pm

Bob Marley's name and music may be familiar to millions. But ask the filmmaker who's been studying the late Jamaican musician and he'll say we don't really know him at all.

"He's universally revered and looked up to as an inspiration. But we've never seen anything that gets to the root of who he is as a man," says Kevin Macdonald, the "Last King of Scotland" and "Touching the Void" director making a movie about the reggae great. "This is going to tell an intimate story of who he is the context of the time and the time of slavery."

Macdonald comes out with his Roman adventure movie "The Eagle" this week, but he's already working on the Marley movie, which aims for a  release this year. The director, collaborating with longtime music producer Chris Blackwell and developer-cum-filmmaker Steve Bing, has gained access to many members of the Marley family. He's also landed more reticent subjects, including the Delta Blues guitarist Donald Kinsey, the former member of the Wailers whom Macdonald says has never been interviewed on camera before.

Macdonald hopes the deep dive into Marley's songs will broaden fans' interest. "The aim of making any film about the artist is to get people to go back to the music," he said.

But it's Marley's slave heritage (alluded to in "Slave Driver" and other political songs) that will take center stage in the film. "It's fascinating that this is who he is, that he came from slavery," Macdonald said.

The opening shot of the film, the director said, will feature a tour of Cape Coast Castle, a fortification in Ghana that contains the infamous "Door of No Return" through which many Africans passed before being shipped into slavery. "I want to suggest the idea that his ancestors passed through this door and that his music is trying to come home again spiritually, psychologically, politically," Macdonald said.

Other filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, have tried and failed to make a feature about Marley. Macdonald says that, given the legal issues with the music and the challenges in finding the right actor to play the musician, this doesn't surprises him. But he believes a mini-Marley renaissance could be around the corner. "If a good documentary is made, it can spur people to make a feature," he said.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Bob Marley in 1977. Credit: Richard E. Aaron.


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