March 22, 2023

Why Jamaica is a movie star [- Peter Polack offers ideas]

By Elaine Glusac From New York Times

The island made a mark with Bond films but also has had roles as California and Congo. The author Peter Polack offers some ideas for what to see.

Including the James Bond thriller “Live and Let Die” in 1973 and the Disney comedy “Cool Runnings” in 1993, Jamaica has starred in hundreds of films. The Caribbean island has also doubled for other exotic locales, including French Guiana in 1973’s “Papillon,” Congo in “Dark of the Sun” in 1968 and California in 1994’s “Legends of the Fall.” The new book “Jamaica, the Land of Film,” by the island-born author Peter Polack, catalogs many major international film productions shot on the island, producing memorable scenes, including that of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in a white bikini in 1962’s “Dr. No.” The book highlights shooting locations that often coincide with beauty spots beloved by tourists. The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Polack.

How did Jamaica develop a film industry? What was the appeal?

It started way back in the early 1900s. The most famous movie was “A Daughter of the Gods,” a Fox production that was made in 1916. They came down to Kingston and sank $1 million to produce a Middle Eastern movie. Jamaicans woke up one morning to find camels walking through the streets of Kingston. Film producers loved Jamaica. The people are very literate. They are relatively sophisticated and this became more important when sound came in because you had to be absolutely quiet on the set and Jamaicans were very disciplined in that regard. We have experienced crew. We are very close to the U.S. mainland. And we have perfect weather. Some film directors and cinematographers will tell you about the light in Jamaica, how beautiful it is. You can have extended production days in good weather with experienced people and a government that’s willing to help you. It’s not like shooting a movie in the boondocks.

What are your favorite film settings?

My favorite is also the favorite of the filmmakers — Portland, which is in the eastern parish of Jamaica. It is lush. It is beautiful. It has beaches; it has rivers. Its capital, Port Antonio, is a playground for Hollywood stars since World War II.

What are great movie locales to visit?

There’s actually a Jamaica Land of Film tour in Montego Bay [licensed by Mr. Polack] that can take you to various locations. In “Papillon,” they constructed the prison camp in Falmouth, which is a major cruise ship port now. If you go to Portland, the famous location is Frenchman’s Cove, which had several movies shot there. With “Dr. No,” Ocho Rios’s Dunn’s River Falls played a part in it. In Kingston, you can go to the Liguanea Club and that’s where the English agent in “Dr. No” was assassinated by the three blind mice, which were three guys in white suits who pretended to be blind.

What was the most important film made in Jamaica?

“Dr. No” really set the stage. “Dr. No” was the first in the James Bond franchise. It was shot in 1962 just as we were getting independence. It was a major production with major international stars and it really put us on the road. But you have to view it against a background of 40 to 50 years before when filmmakers were coming to Jamaica and shooting movies.

Is Jamaica typecast as a honeymoon set?

Two genres work well: thrillers and romance. That is evidenced by a sequence of spy thrillers, the most recent was “Knight and Day” in 2010 with Tom Cruise. If you are shooting spy thrillers throughout urban centers in Europe and North America, respectfully, they don’t have a lot of exotic aspect to it. But you can have a floatplane land off Frenchman’s Cove with Cameron Diaz. That’s what Jamaica can provide, a very beautiful locale that will give any thriller or romance an edge.

Sounds like visitors should follow the directors to Portland.

With the improvement of infrastructure, you have a lot of people who come to Ocho Rios and drive to Port Antonio for a day. Even in Jamaica, you’ll find a lot of Jamaicans who come to Portland especially for a weekend. There is no greater compliment than that the people of the country love it as much as visitors and go there.

A version of this article appears in print on March 24, 2018, on Page TR2 of the New York edition with the headline: The story behind Jamaica’s starring roles in movies.. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Image Port Antonio in Jamaica.CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times
Image Peter Polack. CreditVanessa Polack

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