Words by Klieon John
Australian-grown American-Iranian Director/Photographer Nabil Elderkin departs from his impressive portfolio of music videos for the likes of Kanye West, Nicky Minaj, Skrillex and John Legend, and travels to Jamaica to spin this compelling and imaginative tale of rebellion and the pursuit of physical and spiritual freedom in Capture Land.
The film follows a young community leader, appropriately named “Tocky,” which seems to be a play on the historical leader of a 1760 slave revolt in Jamaica called “Tacky.” Skillfully portrayed by Sheldon Shepherd, lead singer of alternative reggae group “No-Maddz,” Tocky leads a band of Rastas on a daring and dangerous journey of self-rescue, leaving behind an oppressive society but also the prospect of love.
Mostly told in Jamaican Creole, using instrumental samplings from the song “Capture Land” by popular reggae sensation Chronixx, it honours the native ideals of Jamaican society, making it authentic and relatable. In Jamaica, “Capture Land” refers to land that has been acquired illegally by squatting, which according to recent figures, represents almost a third of the Jamaican population, making this film as relevant to the locale as you can get. The story line, both inspiring and surprisingly fantastical, abandons the question of feasibility and instead illuminates the soul-singeing passion that is found in Rastafari’s longing for and spiritual connection to their motherland, Africa.
The film cleverly plays upon society’s stigmatized view of Rastas and young men living in poverty as inevitable criminals by withholding their true intentions until the end, leading the audience to believe instead that their procurement of gasoline and machetes and stealing of food supplies are in preparation for some grand violent act of rebellion.
Told with alarming audacity, the story challenges society’s view and treatment of its marginalized characters who live in inner city Kingston and on the city’s fringes. Capture Land accurately represents the villainous imposition of Jamaican police authority on the lower social classes, who in this film seem to be in constant pursuit of the “dutty Rasta bwoy” and his gang out of a default habit of suspicion.
Tocky’s militant pursuit of freedom is a stark paradox to his quirky, whimsical disposition when pursuing his love interest, Marie. This highlights the ever-present dichotomy between the Rasta’s participation in this secondary society and his spiritual ambition to escape the post-colonial plantocracy.
Tocky is a modern day Paul Bogle, a wild-hearted revolutionary who wears shades at night and still gives flowers to girls. His Barry White smoothness manages to charm both the audience and the young, strong-spirited Marie at the same time. His still and steady demeanor and the calm reservation in his voice makes him both approachable and authoritative.
While Capture Land is a rude tale of disobedience and rebellion, it is also an inspiring tableau of male camaraderie sustained by common struggle and shared determination. Acknowledging their past indiscretions, Tocky and his gang seek redemption in this act of bravery and heroism, which makes the story captivating and inspiring.
In the midst of a compelling story delivered by a gifted cast, the narrative that underscores the film is deeply contemplative and provocative in its philosophy. Over the gentle crackling of bonfire or the quiet whisper of morning tide, the shamanic voice-overs and text-on-screen set strong pensive tones. The film opens with the Nelson Mandela quote, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.” It then transitions to Tocky behind bars, frozen stone-like in deep thought, while his madman cell mate chants incessantly “jail house set me free, me waan go home a me yaad.”
The repetition of Tocky’s refrain “Every man have a purpose. As Rastafari people, we have to discover our purpose” creates a window through which we see deep into his headspace. These ideals of “reason” and “purpose” are a constant mantra for Tocky and his crew throughout the film, reaffirming the virtue behind their pursuit.
The use of No-Maddz’s lead singer and other group members is appropriate because of the group’s reputation for anti-establishment rhetoric and satire. For anyone who has ever seen a No-Maddz performance, it’s entirely believable that any such endeavor however blindly ambitious and untenable would indeed be skippered by Sheldon – the Jamaican Jack Sparrow – and his motley crew of musical bandits.
Sheldon has the piercing glare of a cobra, hypnotizing its prey. There is no doubt that as an actor and musician, he is alarmingly authentic and dangerously convincing – after this performance, I’d follow him into any revolution.
He is supported by a cast of other young creatives including theatre directors and playwrights Aston Cooke and Rayon McLean, (officers ‘Bound’ and ‘Roach’) whose uninhibited portrayals help to tell the story from a raw Jamaican perspective.
Stunning and Poetic Visuals
Beautifully shot and brilliantly directed, the videography captures both the dreariness of poverty in Jamaican ghettos and the paradoxical vibrancy and color of old buildings and broken structures. The film uses the magnetic glow of the ever-burning fire that is iconic to the Rastafari movement, the striking luminescence of black skin in sunlight, the heart-rending caricature of an old man’s face, the smooth steady rocking to reggae music, the consultation of ganja in their collective ‘reasonings’ and the invocation of Jah’s guidance and protection to punctuate the story. At the same time, Elderkin authentically renders the masterfully chiseled physique and the unapologetic jaggedness of free-form dread locs that are characteristic of devout Rastafarians, separating fashion from faith. And speaking of fashion, the film yet manages to capture the third-world bohemian style of traditional Reggae/Rastafarian films like The Harder They Come (1972) and Rockers (1978) with heavy doses of fitted chinos, black merinos, chocolate fedoras and wayfarers. In this way, the film is vintage in both its look and feel as well as its social philosophies of revolution.
Capture Land is a story of heart over head. It is a meeting of spirituality and revolution, the boldest grasp at freedom we have seen in this region in decades. Like the wise elder in the film, we are left, gaze fixed to the horizon, our hearts filled with contentment and hope, wishing them well on their journey. And in the end, as they step out on their voyage, this band of spiritual rebels make it clear in their literal interpretation of Chronixx’s lyrics, that “Rasta nuh live pon nuh capture land.”