Gables filmmaker's documentary on Marley to be screened at festival
By Suzy Valentine
Twenty-five years after the death of reggae superstar Bob Marley in a Miami hospital, a Coral Gables filmmaker is to pay a $2 million biographical tribute this month.
It took Saul Swimmer four years to piece together footage from fans to create "Bob Marley & Friends," a documentary to be shown at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach on March 9 as part of the Miami International Film Festival. The Jamaican musician died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, now Cedars Medical Center, in 1981.
Political aspects of the Rastafarian's life have been documented to the detriment of any musical biography, Mr. Swimmer said.
He rolled proceeds from an earlier musical documentary, "Queen - We Will Rock You," into this project and added some personal funds.
The documentary required cooperation from fans across the world and the assent of the Marley estate, controlled by 11 survivors. The filmmaker said he paid tens of thousands of dollars in royalties.
"Finding and collecting footage was the first phase," said Mr. Swimmer. "Then the Marley heirs all wanted a say. They wanted their input. There are the children, their mother, his widow. We had to satisfy a lot of people without compromising the picture."
Twenty-five songs accompany the footage, including four performed by Marley, three by contemporary Pete Tosh and another by Marley's children. Unraveling the intellectual property rights in the songs proved a challenge, said Mr. Swimmer.
"I made a deal with the estate, and I went through the office," he said. "The songs are in a different bracket of royalty if they have already been re-recorded. The Marleys still wanted to OK every use of a song, but they seemed very happy with the end product."
Mr. Swimmer said he believes the film will have a positive impact on the image of Jamaica. "He became an exile from Jamaica," he said. "There was so much violence on the streets, and he tried to bring more positivity.
"Jamaica is next only to Haiti in terms of basket cases of the world," Mr. Swimmer said. "I think this film will gain a strong reaction as it shows that Jamaica could produce a world icon."
The filmmaker is to take the documentary on the road after its screening at the film festival.
"We're going to be touring with this. We helped develop the technology for MobileVision," said Mr. Swimmer. "We use a screen which is like a touring IMAX screen that is five stories high. It measures 60-by-80 feet and has a 100-watt sound system."
Mr. Swimmer left his native New York for Miami-Dade County 12 years ago. "I graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1960," he said, "and I've been working in film since then. I started in New York City, and I made a few independent productions."
The filmmaker figured he could work in better conditions.
"Then I woke up to the realization that I could do the same thing in good weather," said Mr. Swimmer, "rather than 6-below."