By Jordan Riefe
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Kevin MacDonald has enjoyed a distinguished career making both documentaries - "One Day in September" and "Touching the Void," among them - as well as feature films such as "The Last King of Scotland."
For his latest non-fiction movie, the 44-year-old MacDonald has taken on iconic Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley in "Marley," which is currently playing in a limited number of U.S. theaters with plans to expand around the country in coming weeks.
Born in 1945 in the rural Jamaican town of Nine Mile, Marley spent his formative years in Kingston ghettos where he turned to music. His roots in early ska evolved into reggae when Marley became a Rastafarian, and with hits such as "No Woman, No Cry," he eventually became an international superstar. Marley died in 1981 of melanoma cancer.
Marley's music and his message of peace is brought to life in MacDonald's new documentary, and Reuters recently spoke with the Oscar-winning director about the man behind the image, his violent brush with death and his final years.
Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Bob Marley that you came across preparing the movie?
A: "Misconception about him starts with the idea he was just a pot-smoking, lazy Caribbean guy who didn't do very much. And actually, as you see in the movie, he's driven and ambitious and hard working and disciplined. I think that will come as a surprise to many people."
Q: Jamaica gained its independence the same year he had his first hit. How much do you think he was shaped by his times?
A: "Jamaican independence, in 1962, coincides with the formation of The Wailers (Marley's band) and they do run in parallel, The Wailers and the history of Jamaica, they are the spokespeople. Obviously Bob's music in the 70s is intricately caught up with the political situation and with Jamaica's position as a kind of proxy state in the Cold War."
Q: You have a brief section on the attempt to assassinate Marley, which has long been thought to be politically motivated, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert in 1976. Who do you think was behind the attempt?
A: "If you listen to any two people in Jamaica they'll give you two different conspiracy theories on who shot Bob Marley. There was a CIA file on Marley, but then there was a CIA file on everybody. I'm sure the CIA was involved in bringing arms into the country, for instance. But I don't believe that there's any evidence that suggests Bob himself was targeted by the CIA."
Q: What are some of the rumors in Kingston?
A: "You can't find anyone in Jamaica who will talk about that on record, still, because they're terrified. It's amazing to think it's still so dangerous there to talk about something that happened 40 years ago, even now. I was told by two or three people that they - the guys who were actually responsible for it - faced ghetto justice and were dead within a few weeks. Certainly that's what Alan Cole, Bob's great friend and a very connected guy, told me. I have no reason to doubt that."
Q: And what followed was a two year exile in the UK.
A: "After he had the brush with death with the assassination attempt, that was when the first outpouring of creativity happened with 'Exodus' and 'Kaya' all within a few months. And the cancer, I think, gave him a sense of his immortality."
Q: Why didn't he seek treatment?
A: "I think he had a feeling of invincibility. He believed that Rastas don't die - a fundamental Rasta belief that you don't die. And he was hugely religious. I think everything in him was saying, ‘It'll be okay.' I think he knew that he was really ill. He wasn't stupid. I think he decided to just ignore it and say, 'let's carry on performing as long as we can.'"
Q: At the end of the movie you see the footage of everyone mourning him...
A: "And you have the funeral cortege going through Jamaica from Kingston up to Nine Mile. And you see this huge outpouring of grief. That's because he was a part of the country, part of Jamaica and somehow with his dying, part of the country disappears. I don't think there's any other country which is so uniquely identified with a single individual as Jamaica is with Bob Marley."
(Reporting by Jordan Riefe; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)