Jamaican Mafia is the latest gangster flick with growing street hype.
Many of the stars in the film are from previous underground hits like Shottas, Bashment Fork In The Road and Third World Cop. Jamaican Mafia is a gritty movie capturing the trials and tribulations of the characters with a serious message. The Source had the chance to speak with Dale Foti, the film’s executive producer, who discusses the idea for the film, the film-making process and the fight to get it seen worldwide.
What’s the movie about?
Jamaican Mafia is a gangster-thriller in the vein of Goodfellas and Shottas that tells the story of a frustrated car salesman, Zoolian Anderson (“Zoo-Zoo”). Coincidentally, in his desperate quest of gaining riches and respect, he quits the corporate world and suddenly comes to discover he’s the nephew of a powerful crime boss. His life turns around when he reluctantly decides to join a very illicit organization, better known as the Jamaican Mafia.
How long did it take to cast, edit and shoot?
As far as casting for Jamaican Mafia, that was done mostly by Mykal Fax. He’s been working with several of the cast members for years on other projects and knew while he was writing the script exactly who he had in mind for each role. This was done early on, within the first couple of months of its birth. While Mykal cast the main characters, I cast extras and found locations to film, as we scheduled and completed most scenes within about 1.5 months’ time. In the time following, it took several months to edit the film and that was done by Vafomba Donzo, our Director, while Mykal input the subtitles one-by-one. After we all reviewed and discussed with Orville Matherson and Elvis Griffiths, we pieced together the entire film and cleaned up what needed to be done and then Donzo completed editing. Shooting was done mostly by Sean Fortune and Vafomba Donzo and most of that was completed within two months. Scenes after were added and/or redone into that year following the two months. We were done with everything within 1.5 years, but with touch-ups and added/changed scenes, in full it was a good two years in time.
What do you say to people about the comparison of Jamaican gangster movies like Shottas, Third World Cop and other similar kinds of movies?
Jamaican Mafia is in a world all of its own. It’s nothing like those movies mentioned. The only similarities are violence and Paul Campbell. Several people were under the impression that we were Shottas 2. Again, the only relation to Shottas is Paul. Other than that, everything else is different, including the story line, producers, actors, crew, theme, etc.
As an independent filmmaker, can you talk about the process of putting together a film like this?
Everything’s more difficult when you’re independent. There are two very important ingredients that keep people on board and focused: passion and dedication. There’s very little money and everyone’s working based on a “labor of love,” so to speak, hoping it pays off after the movie releases and generates sales. You have to go from one location to the next, requesting to strangers that we (filmmakers) would like to film for hours upon hours of time for “free” at their business. The good part is we had the best team anyone can ask for between the much-dedicated and extremely talented cast and crew. Everyone worked together to make Jamaican Mafia the biggest and best independent film in American-Jamaican history to date!
There seems to be a huge trend of Caribbean films, and African films, that have found an audience in the United States. Did that have any effect on your decision to make Jamaican Mafia?
Mykal Fax wrote Jamaican Mafia because of some similar real-life experiences he had growing up. That being said, he was born in Jamaica, and raised in the US. Several members of the team are Jamaican and we absolutely did have an interest in targeting a much wider audience, but at the same token, bringing attention to Jamaican culture and their arts and entertainment to the forefront. Unfortunately in years past, Jamaican cultural films only reached predominantly Caribbean audiences. Our goal was definitely to change that. Orville Matherson and Elvis Griffiths are also of Jamaican descent and Vafomba Donzo is African. I am Italian-American so between all of us, our goal was to really attract a worldwide audience.
The film’s strategy for distribution is quite unique, right?
It’s harder for a culturally-based independent film to get into American theaters than it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle! We had lots of interest and offers and we really tried everything to obtain worldwide theatrical distribution. We had requests from theaters around the world to do independent screenings, but the ‘tour’ aspect doesn’t work well because on top of us having to police our own film against pirates, etc (which means some of us have to travel ‘with’ the movie) most places could not afford to get us to their location and still make a profit. Jamaica refused to distribute the film theatrically because it was “too violent.” After working endlessly day after day on trying to find a way to give the world what they wanted, and that was just to see Jamaican Mafia, we decided to contract with folks who were genuinely interested in our film at www.fame.watch, as they were launching their live streaming web platform on the same evening of our movie’s release on their new site. Our audiences were getting quite wary and impatient, but no one understood all of the false hope we were given from potential business deals time and time again. We didn’t sleep for a moment trying to get our film out to the masses.
The movie was recently screened in Jamaica. What was the reception like from the people there?
The reception was historical! To date, there has never been a movie at a theater in Jamaica to have received this much attention—including international films. The movie was scheduled to play in two theaters in Kingston. Tickets were sold out and people were begging the theater personnel to see if they could purchase their tickets and stand in the aisles, and that’s exactly what they allowed them to do. Some people sat in the aisles for 2.5 hours watching, while others either stood or sat on the laps of their partners. The unfortunate part was that we had to turn away five busloads of people who were dying to see it, because the theater reached its maximum on how many they could allow in.
I read there are plans to show the film in other Caribbean countries. For those who don’t know, what are the film-making and film-viewing communities like in those countries?
We were contacted by Movie Palace in Grenada and the movie began showing January 7 for a three week run there. I was told that Paul Campbell’s movies are a huge hit in Grenada and people were calling the theater in advance asking if they can pre-purchase tickets for our film. The interest in the Caribbean on Caribbean films is unbelievable. The islanders love to support their ‘own.’ We are also showing in Barbados on January 20.
Are there any plans for a theatrical release in U.S. movie theaters?
As mentioned above about a theatrical release, for a first-time culturally-based film in the US, it’s close to impossible to pull off and we have exhausted every means and traveled across the country several times in order to make this attempt. Our dream was to make this happen but we will hopefully have enough attention to do so by part two.
Any last words about the film?
As you probably already know, the film has been bootlegged all over the world—and it began within the first 24 hours of its release, when our director was delivered a copy on DVD the next morning from a local store in Brooklyn. This might have hurt our business, but it won’t kill our passion for film-making. It’s almost bittersweet. How many culturally-based, independent films with no theatrical distribution are bootlegged all over the world within 24 hours? It’s disappointing, yet flattering.
Jamaican Mafia isn’t just a movie about Jamaican and African gangsters. It’s a movement that gives hope. It may have changed the way the world responds to Caribbean-based films and entertainment in general. For just ordinary people who have regular jobs, in our free time, we made a blockbuster movie that will go down in history, which is receiving more attention than we could have ever imagined. Now we can consider ourselves official filmmakers. Our ratings are through the roof! If you have not yet seen Jamaican Mafia, please go to www.fame.watch and also keep posted on our Facebook page at “Jamaican Mafia Movie” for updates, DVD release or theatrical screenings. You won’t regret it.