Independant filmmakers are only really constrained by their own imagination & whatever budget they can raise to make their movie. This means, a lot of the time, that independant movies will be more personal & more inventive than the more mainstream Hollywood movie can ever be, and there have been some great directors come out of the indie scene & break into the mainstream over the years, so it’s always an interesting place to see if you can spot the talent of the future.
Which brings us to Wah Do Dem (Jamaican Patois for “What They Do,”) an indie movie written & directed by life-long friends Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner. When Ben won an all expenses paid cruise to Jamaica in a raffle he invited Sam to go with him, as they both shared a love for the Caribbean. And then they decided to use the free boat ride to make a movie. They bought two additional tickets for Sean Bones, the lead, and Kevin Bewersdorf, sound recordists/actor, and then set sail on the week long cruise to Jamaica.
Once there, they spent two weeks filming & the result is this film – Wah Do Dem, in which the lead character, Max, has won a cruise to Jamaica. Intending to take his girlfriend (played by Norah Jones), he is instead left stunned when she leaves him &, without being able to find anyone to take the 2nd ticket, ends up heading off himself.
After the week long boat journey, during which he gets drunk a lot, he finds himself at last on the shores of Jamaica. Determined to see the “real” Jamaica, he ends up accepting a lift to a secluded beach with a local he meets in a bar.
While at the beach, his clothes get stolen &, falling out with his new friend over this event, finds himself miles away from his cruise ship.
Eventually he makes it back to the dock, only to find the ship sailing away. With no other choice he has to head off across Jamaica to Kingstone & the American Embassy. And so begins his spiritual & physical journey of discovery.
I really wasn’t sure about this film when I started watching it. As with a lot of indie or first time films it reminded me of a student movie, like my friends used to make back in college.
The odd camera angles, awkward acting, & stilted script were all present & correct.
The scenes of Sean Bones on the boat trip to Jamaica were also quite tedious, quite possibly intentionally so to highlight the boredom of being stuck on a long boat journey by yourself, but I did find my attention waning during this period.
But then they arrive in Jamaica & it’s like watching a different film. Sure, the script sometimes feels a little forced, but the performances suddenly feel more natural & honest & the film starts to capture the imagination as Sean Bones heads off on an almost spiritual journey of discovery.
There is a dreamlike quality to this journey that lends itself to the narrative, such as it is, and ends up elevating the last third of the film to somewhere else, somewhere where it grows above it’s humble beginnings & becoming a very philosophical treaty on one mans journey through Jamaica & life itself.
Sean Bones, who played the lead character, does an admirable job in the lead but for a lot of the running time he really did annoy me. He did get less annoying once the journey across Jamaica had started properly but, in my opinion, I don’t feel he was a strong enough actor to carry the film fully.
Wah Do Dem is not perfect, there are a few things that don’t quite work as well as Chace and Fleischner might have hoped, and there are things they’ll need to tighten up in their next writing/directorial effort (like characterisation – if there’s one thing I would have liked to have seen much more of it would have been lead character Max having a much better defined character, especially as he was the focal point of the whole film) & the ending which just felt like they either ran out of money or ideas (or both) but as it is this is a very promising independent film & I will be very interested to see what these enterprising young directors come up with in the future.