Sprinter, The Movie. A Review.

Sprinter is a movie written and directed by a Jamaican, staring many Jamaicans, shot largely in Jamaica. Note I didn’t say that it’s a “Jamaican movie.” I think it’s important to make this distinction. It’s a movie. And it’s a damn good movie that can easily hold it’s own in terms of the production, the plot, the script, the acting, the sound track, the cinematography and sheer entertainment value against any other movie out there, including the Hollywood block busters that have the might of well resourced marketing organisations behind them and the draw of big names that are paid big bucks to headline those productions. What follows is my review of the movie. I am not a technical expert. I am simply a movie goer, and yes, our perspectives count. We are the ones that buy the tickets and rack up box office sales. Simple.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell. I lifted this straight from Jamaicans.com:

The film follows Akeem Sharp, 17, who is nicknamed “The Rasta Rocket” for his amazing running speed. Akeem wants to be Jamaica’s next top track-and-field star athlete and hopes his athletic talent will take him to the United States to compete in the World Youth Championships in Los Angeles. He hopes that getting to the US will allow him to reunite with his mother, who has been supporting the family while living as an illegal resident for more than ten years. Unfortunately, Akeem’s dream faces obstacles from his turbulent home life with a volatile father and an older, scam-artist brother who works his way into the athlete’s career so he can continue his hustle.”

Sprinter writer & director Storm Saulter.
Sprinter writer & director Storm Saulter.
Photo courtesy Jamaica Gleaner

What I Loved about Sprinter, The Movie

  • Seeing Jamaica on the Big Screen: I can’t lie…I loved seeing my island on the big screen. From the urban-scapes of Montego Bay and New Kingston to the cane fields with the mountains as backdrop, to the National Stadium pulsating with the energy of the annual Boys and Girls athletic championship, to touching flashbacks on the beach between a young Akeem and his mom.
  • Great Shots of our Natural Beauty: stunning sunsets, the sun through coconut fronds, the beach. Beautifully composed and shot scenes in and around our island.
  • The Soundtrack: I seem to remember there being a fair bit of contemporary dance-hall music which I’m not a fan of, but somehow fit perfectly. From the party scene at the little dance-hall/bar near Akeem’s home to the scammer’s cell phone ring tones to the high-life party with loads of pretty, scantily clad girls and men with guns and money overlooking the city, the music choices simply fit. They never overwhelmed but rather, they helped create the specific energy needed as the plot developed. One particular scene stands out in my mind: Akeem had triumphed at a track meet and returned to his (fictional) high school a star. As he was greeted by his adoring school mates, dance-hall star Alkaline’s Champion Boy said it all better than any dialogue or performance.
  • The Language: the dialogue was in both English and patois and was easy to follow, at least for me. I’d be curious to see if a non-Jamaican needed sub-titles. There were Jamaican so-called cuss-words too, of course, strategically placed when there was need for emphasis and even comedic relief. It worked! The crowd reaction at Carib to Jamaican bad-words as we call them (think cheering and loud applause) never gets old for me.
  • The Acting: Superb performances by all! The best ones for me were Dale Elliot as the sprinter, Akeem, Shantoll Jackson as Mira, a track-team mate who provides badly needed stability and friendship to Akeem as he navigates choices he must make, and Kadeem Wilson as Germaine, Akeem’s older brother who was simply brilliant. Dale portrayed all the innocence and happiness and uncertainty and bravado wrapped up in his character. It felt natural and real. His ready, broad smile reminded us that he was a kid, even though he was carrying a heavy burden and having to make serious decisions that could impact his life for better or worse.
  • Stand out performance: Kadeem Wilson as Germaine, Akeem’s older brother was the most complex and interesting character in the movie to me. Here was an older brother who was himself a former track star in high school who appears to be caught up with an illegal hustle trying to create a better life for himself, and one who I think wants his little bro to succeed but also is looking for a way to personally enrich himself as his little brother “rockets” to stardom. He gives dodgy advice, exposes Akeem to situations and danger that no school kid should have to contemplate and yet has an attack of conscience in the nick of time in order to really support Akeem. He was authentic in his portrayal and I hated him and felt sypathetic towards him at the same time.
  • Cameos: What fun to see real life personalities appear throughout the movie as themselves! Usain Bolt (the cinema cheered loudly as his distinctive profile came into focus in dramatic fashion), Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness and Winford Williams, TV host of popular entertainment magazine show On Stage.
  • Product Placement by local brands: I love looking out for these in any movie I watch! The obvious ones to me were from GraceKennedy Ltd with the branding at the local meets portrayed in the film, along with prominent placement of their flagship Tropical Rhythms beverage in a school cafeteria scene and Flow Telecommunications. Skype was the bridge between Akeem and his mom across the waters, and Flow provided the internet connection that made it possible.
  • Familiar Faces: Glen Campbell, Dahlia Harris, Sakina Deer and Prince Pine, Saneeta Myrie, Beth Hyde, Bryshere Grey (of Empire fame) were some of the familiar actors that made appearances throughout, some having more prominent roles than others.
Scene from Sprinter, the movie
Scene from Sprinter, the movie
Photo courtesy Runner Space
Stand out performances from Dale Elliot, Shantol Jackson & Kadeem Wilson
Stand out performances from Dale Elliot, Shantol Jackson & Kadeem Wilson (L -R) Photo courtesy Black Film

What I didn’t like about Sprinter, the Movie

Truth be told, there was very little I didn’t like!

  • The accent of Akeem’s mom played by Lorraine Toussaint (of Orange is the New Black) wasn’t Jamaican at all. It sounded like a Trini hybrid kinda thing. As it turns out, Lorraine is Trinidadian! But I love her. She’s a great actor with remarkable ability to convey complex and mixed emotions. David Alan Grier (from In Living Colour) as coach was ho-hum. His accent was terrible. And the perpetual scowl on his face was more comedic than anything else. I think the coach’s character was central to the plot and could have contributed more had it been played without this comedic hint. Perhaps their selections to the cast was to lend the production familiar names with pedigree to get potential audiences to take notice.
  • Akeem’s legs were too hairy for those of a school boy. Him leg dem did look like big man.
  • The dance-hall/bar near Akeem’s home seemed rather “set-ish”, a temporary structure clapped together for the sole purpose of recording one scene. It was isolated in the middle of nowhere.
David Alan Grier as Coach in a scene from Sprinter, The Movie
Photo courtesy LA Times
Lorraine Toussaint
Lorraine Toussaint
Photo courtesy Caribbean Current

Sprinter: Very Real Jamaican Themes

Migration from Jamaica to the USA is seen by many as the only way out of poverty and presents often the only hope by those trapped by lack of opportunity. For so many of our people a visa to the USA is akin to winning the lottery. They go to the USA on a vistor’s visa and then “run-off”, existing in a foreign land in this self-imposed exile. They dare not return home for a visit, as re-entry to the USA after over-staying on a visitor’s visa will absolutely be denied. A planned 2 year stay then turns into 10 years as our people work and scrimp and save to improve the lot of their families back home. Families are torn apart as separation strains at the familial bonds. Children with a parent in the USA often sport the latest shoes and accessories, received in the ubiquitous barrel of goodies that the absent parent sends periodically. But the absence of, in most cases, their mother is a wound that never heals. This theme is central to the plot of Sprinter and writer and director Storm Saulter captures it beautifully. We feel the pain of the child (Akeem), the hurt and loneliness of his father and the loss and guilt mingled with pragmatism (“I did what I had to do”) of the mother.

The importance we Jamaicans place on track and field and our undying love for its heroes is also central to the plot of the movie. Once again, Storm captures the excitement of our annual flagship track and field event, the Inter-secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships. The enthusiastic and fanatical support by the public as well as the super-star status of the emerging champions are excellently portrayed and the viewer can’t help but get caught up in this very real aspect of Jamaican culture.

Leveraging the Rastafarian faith as a pivotal point in the plot, the beginning of redemption and healing, was an interesting inclusion. Many stories use faith at this intersection and it was refreshing to have this “come to Jesus moment” anchored in an indigenous religion, complete with Nyabinghi drumming and chanting, using herbal remedies and finding solace and peace within the Rasta community.

Scene from Sprinter, the Movie
Scene from Sprinter, the Movie
Photo courtesy Runner Space

Support Our Own !

I watched all the credits after the movie. Yes, I watched them through my tears (mi buss two thug tears as the movie ended). It takes a hell of a lot of people to put a movie together you know. Kudos to the writer and directer Storm Saulter, the producers Will and Jada Smith and everyone else who coordinated and supported to bring this vision to life. If we took our money to watch Avatar and the Fast and the Furious and Black Panther, we can buy a ticket to Sprinter. And it’s not a pity-buy either. It is an excellent production and very entertaining. Let’s give our own creatives an outlet to hone their craft and make a living. Sprinter was the winner of several awards at the 2018 American Black Film Festival, including Best Feature Film, Best Director, and the Audience Award. It was also the Jury Winner for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Pan African Film Festival. It was released in the USA in April of this year through Gathr Films’ Theatrical-On-Demand. It recently opened maybe about 2 weeks ago in Jamaica.

Here’s the thing: if we don’t go to see Sprinter, the run will be cut. Go see it, Guys. I had been seeing posts on Twitter about how empty the cinema was during the various screenings of the movie. When I went, the cinema was less than half full. Judging from the audience reaction though, all who viewed enjoyed it immensely.

This is a great opportunity for businesses to take a page out of Phase 3 Productions’ book. They sponsored several youth from the inner city to see this brilliant production as part of their Give Back programme celebrating their 35th anniversary. In their words: “We wanted youths to see a movie, Sprinter The Film, written & directed by a Jamaican Storm Saulter, filmed mostly in Jamaica & staring Jamaicans. We can relate to the star, a teen with big dreams & whose family life plus his own missteps almost crashed his dreams.”

I remember various celebrities and others buying out movie houses in the States when Black Panther was released. This drove up box office sales AND exposed the film to audiences who may never have gotten the chance to see themselves on screen were it not for the sponsorship.

Grab some friends, get your tickets, buying them online is super convenient, take advantage of the Palace 2-for-1 specials, get out of the heat and enjoy a really entertaining, well-made movie in air-conditioned comfort. Then encourage others to go as well. Spread the word on your social media platforms. Let’s do this!

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