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Coming this week... Ghett’a Life!

FILM: Ghett’a Life

A FRIEND once told me a story of going to a market in London to buy a compilation CD. Unsure of the content of the album, said friend asked the stall owner if it was any good.

“Yeah man,” the Jamaican market trader replied. “Di album bad til it cyaan bad nuh more!” This was the very sentiment that came to mind after watching Ghett’a Life.

A raw and gripping exploration of corruption in Jamaican politics, Ghett’a Life, from director Chris Browne (Third World Cop), examines how warfare between rival garrisons (towns) goes beyond the residents of these communities and into the heart of politics.

Shining a light on the way in which some government officials align themselves with dons (criminal bosses in the community) in a bid to win votes, the film offers an in-depth exploration of Jamaica’s gang warfare.

Young Derrick (Kevoy Burton) is an aspiring boxer, who dreams of becoming the next Lennox Lewis. (Incidentally, Lewis, who serves as the film’s executive producer, also has a cameo role, playing himself in the production.)

Derrick wants to join the local boxing gym in order to qualify for the upcoming Olympics. But with Derrick’s father Lenford (Carl Davis) serving as a councillor for one political party – and the gym being located on the side of the opposition, Derrick is forbidden from attending the gym and following his dream.

In an act of defiance, the budding boxer joins the gym anyway, much to the annoyance of his fellow gym members, who hail from the rival garrison and are wholly unwelcoming of their new member.

Worse still, Sin (Chris McFarlane) the don of Derrick’s garrison – who works closely with the community’s MP Mr Hewlett (Lenford Salmon) – sees the youngster’s alliance with the opposition as an act of disrespect to his own community.

Unmoved by the fact that Derrick is the son of a respected councillor in his own garrison, Sin sets out to prove that he is boss – and that he’s not to be disrespected by anybody. And with Derrick’s father blinded by his own political aspirations and failing to see the corruption that surrounds him, the youngster feels very much alone in his bid to use his sporting skill to bring an end to garrison warfare.

But as he goes against all warnings, Derrick learns that pursuing his dream leads to devastating consequences.

For those (like myself), who rolled their eyes in frustration upon hearing tales of Jamaica’s garrison warfares (the much publicised Gully vs Gaza saga springs to mind), the film dismisses the thinking that such violence is simply the cause of impoverished yout’s with nothing better to do.

On the contrary, Ghett’a Life examines how politics can be at the root of these issues, with government figures aligning themselves with dons, who have influence in their communities. With these dons infiltrating communities and often spearheading a culture of division between garrisons, so the warfare begins.

In addition, the film also depicts the vast difference between life in the Jamaican countryside, compared to that in the city. With Derrick hailing from Kingston, viewers see how much he enjoys a trip to the countryside, describing it as “paradise.”

And on the trip, when one of his gym members falls into a river, everyone is reluctant to jump in and save him because none of them can swim. This served as an ironic reminder that, despite the island being renowned for its idyllic beaches and beautiful rivers, those who live in the city and have little time or opportunity to access beaches or public baths, probably wouldn’t know how to swim.

(This scene also made me recall a story my own Jamaica-born father told me of how he only ‘learned’ to swim as a teenager, after one of his so-called friends pushed him into a river! Ironically, dad loves swimming now.)

Like a Jamaican version of Rocky, Ghett’a Life is a heartwarming tale of overcoming the odds. Though violent in parts, the film is also insightful and, at times, comical. (One scene where a female funeral attendee – dressed in an outfit fit for a dancehall nightclub – proudly announces that she doesn’t support any community don, “but me love go ah dem funeral,” is hilarious.)

The film showcases a great performance from lead actor Burton, who viewers are compelled to champion from the very start. In addition, O’Daine Clarke, who plays Derrick’s best friend Big Toe, (yes, his name is Big Toe) is wonderful; Karen Robinson is beautifully convincing as Derrick’s worried but supportive mother; Winston Bell is loveable as gym instructor Manuel; and reggae star Etana makes an appearance too.

Also boasting a great soundtrack, with music from stars including Bounty Killer (Look Into My Eyes); Buju Banton (Destiny); Nas and Damian Marley (The Strong Will Continue); Daniel ‘Chino’ McGregor (Never Change); and self-proclaimed ‘gully god’ Mavado (On The Rock), the film is truly a Jamaican production.

Opening in the UK this week, Ghett’a Life is a seriously gripping piece of cinema, which will, hopefully, open further doors for the Jamaican film industry.

Ghett’a Life is in cinemas from December 2 through Jamrock Films. For more information, visit

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