In focus: New book chronicles 100 years of filming in Jamaica

In focus: New book chronicles 100 years of filming in Jamaica
Film history: Author Peter Polack documents a century of international films that were shot in his native Jamaica, in his book “Jamaica, the Land of Film.”
Vanessa Polack

A new book documenting the international movie industry filming in Jamaica was released earlier this month and hopes to share the history of Jamaica as a destination for filming. In the book, “Jamaica, the Land of Film,” author Peter Polack chronicles all of the mainstream films from the early 1900’s to present, that used the island nation’s setting as the go-to place to shoot a movie in the Caribbean.

A self-proclaimed lover of film, Polack initially set out to write a short-form piece about films in Jamaica, and discovered something greater than he imagined in his search, he said.

“I realized that there were over 200 films with some connection or reference to Jamaica so I started to research it,” said Polack.

In his discovery he first learned of a 1916 Hollywood film set in the early century Middle East, which cost millions to make, said Polack. The movie was “A Daughter of the Gods,” which was filmed entirely in Kingston and used a defunct women’s prison as a location for some of the filming. Polack also noted that even camels were brought to the island for the sole purpose of the film, further piquing his interest to uncover other movies.

“It was amazing to discover that a big American film company went to Jamaica in 1916 to shoot a million-dollar movie,” he said. “From there I started to catalog a lot of movies — even some that were portrayed as being shot in Jamaica.”

From 1910 to 2007, more than 149 films were filmed in the country, not including documentaries, according to Polack. Some decades saw a bumbling period but that has decreased over the years. The 70s and 80s in particular were golden years for big budget Hollywood films coming to Jamaica, which extended in the 90s.

Some of those movies were 1972’s “Papillion” and 1989’s “The Mighty Quinn,” which starred up-and-coming Denzel Washington.

“The seventies was a big year — we had romantic movies and action films — you name it,” said Polack. “But the period in which we seemed to have the most film production was from 1992-2006 — it was almost one movie a year.”

But pre-dating that even one of the first Bond films, “Dr. No” used Jamaica’s scenery for some backdrop.

He adds that despite Jamaica being a desirable location for directors to shoot movies, over time filmmakers moved from actually shooting on location and opted for footage or other tropical places assumed to be in the region — in particular the “Pirates of the Caribbean” which has done some filming for it’s last few films in Hawaii, which is far from the Caribbean, said Polack.

“It’s one thing to show and represent a film as being shot in the Caribbean, but if you’re going to use the name, use the location,” he said.

Majority of the international film companies seeking out Jamaica as the ideal reeling location were predominantly from Hollywood, and to a lesser extent the British and French film industries.

And other movie-buffs and film historians alike will appreciate the detailed and fun-fact breakdown the book offers.

“I think people that have a general interest in film and movies are going to be fascinated by 100 years of films shot in Caribbean, Jamaica in particular,” said Polack.

Polack’s overall goal is that his book is not only used a reference guide, but is also something the filmmakers and producers can look to as encouragement to return to the island, and to even push the Jamaica Film Commission to work on promoting the country as a premier filming destination.

“There has been no major movie filmed in Jamaica since 2010, and I think the film commission should try to attract filmmakers,” he said. “I hope that directors read this book and are drawn back to Jamaica the same way tourists are.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]

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