'The Harder They Come' Director's Home Turning Into Jamaican Film/Music Exhibition Space, Marijuana Dispensary
Numerous scenes in the landmark Jamaican film The Harder They Come were shot and edited at 10A West Kings House Rd, Kingston, Jamaica, on the sprawling grounds of the home/office of the film’s visionary director, producer and co-writer, the late Perry Henzell. Forty-five years after The Harder They Come debuted to enthusiastic international audiences, making Jimmy Cliff a global superstar and introducing much of the world to Jamaica’s signature reggae beat, 10A West Kings House Rd. will be transformed into a multi-purpose attraction that will include Jamaican music and film exhibition spaces, a bar/restaurant, a performance stage, a boutique hotel and a medical marijuana dispensary.
Spearheading the ambitious project at 10A (as the acre property is familiarly known) are Henzell’s children Justine and Jason. Jason Henzell is the chairman of the Henzell family owned Jakes Hotel, which was honored as Caribbean’s leading Boutique Resort in 2010 by the World Travel Awards and named the coolest hotel in Jamaica by The Guardian in 2017. Jakes is a collection of chic cottages and villas (whichf began with a single tiny house, designed by Perry’s widow Sally Henzell) located at Treasure Beach along Jamaica’s rugged south coast in the parish of St. Elizabeth; Jakes’ popular Jack Sprat Bar/Restaurant will open a Kingston outpost at 10A. Justine Henzell, an accomplished film producer in her own right, is also a co-founder of the successful biennial Calabash International Literary Festival (held at Jakes), which has attracted such renowned authors as Edwidge Danticat, Marlon James, (dub poet) Linton Kwesi Johnson and Salman Rushdie, who called Calabash “an extraordinary event in a spectacular setting."
The Henzells chose to announce their plans for 10A on March 7, commemorating what would have been Perry’s 82nd birthday and the 25th anniversary of Jakes, which will be celebrated March 9-11 at Jakes and Jakes’ nearby venues Lovers Leap and Seaside on Old Wharf Beach. The transformation of 10A will occur in phases: the exhibition space, bar/restaurant, marijuana dispensary and herb house (where medical marijuana can be consumed) are scheduled for a June 2018 opening; the 20-30 room boutique hotel (“think an urban Kingston-style Soho House,” says Jason) is slated for 2019. “We will have a performance stage (curated by Justine) featuring film screenings, readings, conversations with musicians, authors and poets. People can come and pay for guided tours of the artwork, memorabilia and photos (including shots by Adrian Boot and Peter Simon who have been photographing Jamaica/reggae artists for decades) that will depict the history of Jamaican music and film,” Jason Henzell told Billboard. “The (permanent and rotating) exhibitions’ sweet spot will be 1970s reggae, focusing on Jimmy Cliff and Toots Hibbert (featured in The Harder They Come with the Maytals recording the joyous “Sweet and Dandy”) because there is nowhere you can go and learn about those artists and their incredibly long, successful careers.”
“There will be permanently mounted exhibitions of posters of the wide range of films shot in Jamaica, building out from The Harder They Come, the first film to feature an all Jamaican cast and crew, and daddy’s second film No Place Like Home,” adds Justine. “I want 10A to be a place where you can find information about the cast and crew of those films and have them available to watch, from Dr. No (the first in the James Bond series, released in 1962) to Cool Runnings (the 1993 film about the Jamaican Bobsled Olympic team) to Yardie (starring Idris Elba), which will be released later this year.”
On Feb. 10 England’s David Rodigan celebrated his 40th anniversary as a reggae selector, headlining an event held at 10A (for the second consecutive year) called Dubwise Jamaica, which attracted 1,200 people. Rodigan, who has traveled the world, calls 10A “the most amazing venue that I have ever played in. As you enter the front gate off a busy main road you have no idea that you are about to step down into a Shangri-La style garden, located behind a vintage house,” Rodigan told Billboard via email. “The intimate outdoor venue feels comfortable and the terrific acoustics capture the sound, which resonates down at the ground level; you could put on plays there, have poetry readings or yoga sessions, the possibilities are endless.”
Perry Henzell was born in Port Maria, Jamaica and grew up on a sugar plantation, where his father was the manager. At 14 he was sent to school in England; he briefly attended McGill University in Montreal before launching his career with BBC television in London. Perry returned to Jamaica in 1959 and opened his company, Vista Productions, in Kingston and spent the 1960s making commercials and documentaries. In 1965 Perry and his wife Sally were living at 56 Hope Rd, Kingston, when Sally became pregnant with Justine; their Hope Rd. landlady did not want children on the premises so Perry purchased the property at 10A. (Bob Marley bought 56 Hope Rd. in the mid '70s from Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell; it’s now the Bob Marley Museum). “When we first moved to 10A, our house was a tiny wooden garage and down the stairs, there was a building with two huge doors that you could drive in, that was Perry’s office,” reminisces Sally, who was the art director of The Harder They Come. Sally also recalled the excitement at the film’s premiere in Kingston in 1972. “It was mass hysteria outside the theater, I could barely get in! It was as if all of West Kingston, where we filmed some scenes, turned up. When the film started a roar went up from the audience and it just continued throughout. But internationally, it was a very hard sell at first. Jamaicans living in the U.K. were (initially) ashamed of the film because there were no white sand beaches or beautiful scenery; it showed an ugly side of Jamaica.”
Following some strong reviews, particularly from The New York Times, The Harder They Come became a favorite on the college and repertory film circuit in 1973, with record-breaking runs at the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge, MA (over seven years) and revival cinemas in New York City and Washington, D.C. The film’s soundtrack, which also featured Desmond Dekker, The Melodians, Scotty, The Slickers and additional songs from Cliff and The Maytals, didn’t enter the Billboard 200 until 1975, peaking at 140, a ranking that doesn’t reflect how significant the album was in establishing an audience for reggae in the U.S.
Perry put all of his resources into The Harder They Come; he visited over 40 countries, film canisters in hand, trying to sell the movie. According to Justine, the Henzell’s had to mortgage 10A for a time and in 1976, they moved out. “Mommy found an old house (in Runaway Bay, on Jamaica’s north coast) that she bought for practically nothing. It had no doors, windows, running water or electricity, but she moved there with Jason who was six then,” recalls Justine, who at 10 years old, chose to remain in Kingston and moved in with her Aunt Sue and cousin, Samantha Gore. Now an award-winning designer based in Los Angeles and Jamaica, Sam Gore will transform 10A’s three existing buildings, and one new structure, “creating a story about its history and the characters that came through, politicians, activists, reggae artists; there was this incredible buzz of activity and as kids we thought it was great,” she says.
In The Harder They Come, Cliff's character Ivan tries to survive music business rip offs and becomes a low-level ganja dealer. When he questions who is really making money from the ganja, his friend José snitches on him, which leads to a spiral of killings and ultimately, Ivan’s demise. In the decades since The Harder They Come was filmed, Jamaica (like much of the world) has experienced a dramatic shift in some aspects of its ganja trade. In 2015 the Jamaican government decriminalized marijuana (2 oz. or less) and established Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA, Jason Henzell is a board member), moving toward a medical licensing system. Six dispensary licenses have been granted already and the first will open on March 10, near the resort town of Ocho Rios. Visitors to Jamaica can utilize the island’s dispensaries by signing an affidavit (available at the dispensaries and the island’s airports) verifying that they can use medical cannabis, and then purchasing an ID card for $20.00; Jamaican residents will require a doctor’s prescription for dispensary access.
The notion of a doctor’s prescription for herb might seem far-fetched on an island where many reggae artists and the Rastafarian community, which regards marijuana as a sacrament, have for over five decades steadfastly championed the plant’s healing properties and campaigned for legalization. However Blaine Dowdle, strategic executive consultant with Kush Research and Genetics (the company that will be operating the dispensary/herb house at 10A) says there is great curiosity in ganja’s medical utility in Jamaica. “With the advances that are being made in cannabis medical science, giving Jamaicans the ability to understand what the content is of the cannabis, especially if they intend to use it for a medical purpose, would go a long way towards effectively utilizing the plant to treat their conditions.” Dowdle, who played a significant role in helping to reform Canada’s marijuana laws, will use his experience to help plan a course forward for Jamaica. “As the reform of cannabis laws takes place internationally, Jamaicans can move from being sustenance farmers into a legal framework and become businessmen, which will allow them to build credit, buy cars and homes,” he notes. “If you can provide alternative economic development opportunities through legal cannabis, you can eliminate some of the criminality that goes along with growing marijuana.”
Cannabis oils, extracts, edibles and specially developed ganja strains (including one called The Harder They Come) will be available at the (cashless) 10A dispensary, which honors another aspect of Perry Henzell’s groundbreaking work and progressive philosophies. “My father always respected the Rastafarian community and he thought that ganja should be legal so everything feels right about turning his home into a dispensary and bringing some of the Jakes hotel experience to Kingston,” says Jason. “Perry never wanted to sell 10A, he wanted it to keep it as a space for the arts, and he would love to see what is going on there now,” adds Sally. “It would be his dream come true.”