Interview: Roger Hall about Holding On To Jah and Rastafari

Roger Hall Holding On To JahYes, i know is a german reggae blog. But this time i have had to change into English, because more people should understand what Roger Hall, director of the movie “Holding On To Jah”, has to say about his movie, Jamaican culture and the Rastafari movement in the interview.

You have put ten years into „Holding On To Jah“. What is it that impresses you so much about Rastafari?

Roger Hall: Well, it started with a love of the music. Roots reggae music. It is the message in that music that inspired Harrison (Harrison Stafford, producer and frontman of the reggae band Groundation) and I to look deeper to see what it was about. The most important thing I discovered is that the movement came out of an oppressed society from a minority of people that were outcasts in that society and through all the trials and tribulations that they faced they still managed to come forth with a positive message of love and unity. To me that is remarkable.

Producer Harrison Stafford with Director Roger Hall
Producer Harrison Stafford with Director Roger Landon Hall

All over the world you see people in poor communities acting out their rage against society with violence. That is the norm and in many ways I believe systems have been set in place to allow for violence as another way to divide, rule and conquer.

The Rastas are the true rebels in that they rejected notions of violence as a means for expressing discontent and channeled their rage into productive avenues such as creative arts, writing, poetry, and music. That whole notion of using positivity to battle negativity is remarkable.  They say you can’t fight fire with fire and they are right. I love that and it impresses me immensely.

I have the impression, that it’s always Non-Jamaicans who try to save and conserve Jamaican culture. Aren’t Jamaicans interested in it?

Roger Hall: You will have to ask the Jamaicans. I’ve found Jamaicans to be one of the proudest people on earth. I think they DO love their culture. I know they do. They just don’t have the resources. I have to say that „Holding On To Jah“ is not just for Jamaicans and not just for lovers of Reggae. It is a human story bridging the gap of our past and saying look, these things happened … slavery, colonial oppression, injustice, and the film allows for a dialogue to take place where the people who this happened to, the ancestors of slaves, come and say, „it’s time for humanity to unite.“

That transcends the idea that it is a film about certain aspects of Jamaican culture. Jamaica is just a framework for a much larger message.  It’s about healing racial divides by understanding our past.

How important is Rastafari in the Jamaican Society today?

Roger Hall: I’d say it’s extremely important for their culture but it is not as embraced as it should be. Too many people have adopted a gangsta mentality and that kind of thing is a vicious cycle fed by greed and violence. It’s like I had mentioned before where the system allows for that sort of thing as a way to subjugate the masses. That gangsta ideology is glorified through music, films and media. Right now it’s chaos over there. It’s a volatile place and Rasta is a small glimmering light.

You have worked with a lot of different people like musicians, rasta elders, singers. How was their reaction on your project?

Roger Hall: The reaction has been great. Some people are more guarded than others in that they want to protect their interests and not be taken advantage of as they have time and time again.  Once we explained the project and went over interview questions they quickly saw that we were coming from a place of respect. Even the most „closed“ individuals opened up to us in a major way and people we thought would not say much ended up talking for hours.

Prince Allah from Holding On To Jah
Prince Allah from Holding On To Jah

I credit that to Harrison. He really is a great person and it’s easy to see he is all about the love. People would tell us time and again, „I’ve been waiting to say those things for so long.“ The average interview was about 2 hours. Some were over 4 hours long.  Everyone loved answering our questions.

Many of them have seen the finished film and we have found great approval. I was told, „it is the film everyone had envisioned should be made on the subject.“ We got a thumbs up from a representative form the Niabinghi Order. We hope to have a viewing with many of those elders.

Some of the actors have died during your project, Joseph Hill for example. Has that motivate you even more to finish “Holding On To Jah”?

Roger Hall: That was EXACTLY the motivation for finishing.  Joseph Hill was one of the most amazing persons I have ever met.  We „livicated“ the film to him.

After ten years of filming and interviewing you have had more than 100 hours of material. You had to cut it down to 1 hour and 38 minutes. I can imagine that it was the hardest part of the whole project.

Roger Hall: Yeah, I was in post production for a year and a half.  The project was designed in a way that Harrison and I had written out the story of the film and then created questions that would help tell that story. Everyone was asked the same questions which made it easy to organize though it was time consuming. Also there is no narration so the film had to be edited in a way that it moved from one interview to the next seamlessly. Often times interviewees would finish each others sentences which I love because it shows how the knowledge is spread out among many people in the community.

Production of Holding On To Jah
Production of Holding On To Jah

The hardest part really was deciding which amazing quote to cut.  So many great quotes were cut. The first cut was two hours and 24 minutes. There will be tons of bonus features when the DVD comes out.

Is there a scene in “Holding On To Jah” that you love the most?

Roger Hall: The end of the film is my favorite. It brought tears to my eyes when it came together. It’s beautiful.

When will “Holding On To Jah” come to Europe?

Roger Hall: I submitted to the Berlin International Film Festival yesterday.  Hopefully we get in.

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