Ras Kassa gained international attention for directing Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock music video in 2005, and has since forged an outstanding careers as a creative director, editor, writer, producer and cinematographer. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when UNICEF Jamaica was planning the film component of its Keep Children Safe campaign, he was one of the directors tapped to contribute by production company FarEye Films.
Kassa is no stranger to UNICEF, having directed the documentary Xpress, a 2007 documentary co-produced by MTV Latin America and UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean, that formed part ‘Staying Alive,’ MTV’s global multimedia HIV and AIDS prevention campaign. The documentary won a Silver Award in the education category at the World Media Festival May 2008.
This time around, Kassa was called on to craft a film on youth gun crime related to the Peace Management Initiative‘s (PMI) work in helping to curb violence in some of Jamaica’s most volatile communities. His film, Before & After, is done in the style of a docu-narrative or docu-drama, incorporating movie-like elements interspersed with an interview. “I didn’t want to make a movie, but wanted to show the real elements of his life,” he said.
The subject of the film is Milton Tomlinson, an intervention specialist with the PMI who went from being a gun-toting youth to a 43-year-old man often called upon to get young men in his community out of a life of crime and violence. Initially, Tomlinson wasn’t the person to be featured, but Kassa was so compelled by his story that it led to a change of direction. “It was the perfect ‘villain-turned-hero’ story, and I thought that was a good twist,” he said. “He is a living example to [the young people he helps]. He has the experience, he is qualified, he lived the life.”
What followed was an intense week-and-a-half process of writing the treatment and script, casting actors for the drama element, shooting and post-production – and delays. There are always delays. It wasn’t ideal, Kassa said, but the finished product betrays none of the behind-the-scenes rush. “Kids, do not try this at home!” he quipped.
The name was decided after the film was already ‘in the can,’ and was settled on as it shows what Tomlinson’s life was like “before and after” he turned his life around.
The director also shared his thoughts on the importance of the keeping our children safe. “First of all, children didn’t ask their parents to be here. The parents and guardians are responsible for their safety,” Kassa said. The State also has an important role to play, but he argued that it has so far done a poor job of protecting our children. “I don’t feel Jamaica is a place that cares about children, especially those of the so-called middle class and the poor.”
Kassa shared a number of things he would like to see put in place to help protect the nation’s children, such as implementing a sex offenders registry, which would alert residents to the presence of anyone convicted of sex crimes in their communities; ensuring that all teachers are properly vetted to weed out potential violators, and creating a more “vigilant and serious” CISOCA (Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse) and police force. He related the story of a close friend whose teen daughter ran away from home and was found two days later living with a “big man.” Although he was found with the girl, the man in question has yet to be arrested.
He is also concerned about the age of consent, which is currently 16. “A 16-year-old doesn’t know her body yet and an 18-year-old still doesn’t get it,” said Kassa. “If you say 16 or 18, you’re saying they’re legal, it’s ok; but what about the grown men who are having sex with them?”
Finally, Kassa wants to see a change in focus from ‘fighting’ crime to education and job creation. “The more people are working, the less crime you will have. What we need are opportunities so we don’t have to make these docu-dramas anymore,” he said. “We can’t fight crime, because we’re only killing our people. We don’t ‘fight crime,’ We create opportunity.”
- Giving Up Guns to Give Back: Ras Kassa Film About Peace Activist Milton Tomlinson by Ross Sheil, UNICEF Jamaica Digital Media Consultant
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