For decades, social analysts have pointed to the need for young males in Jamaica’s low-income communities to be engaged consistently in potentially life-changing interventions. They have also specifically emphasized the fact that travel for cultural exchange broadens one’s perspective and builds confidence. This is precisely what the pilot project, v Free, did for 11 youngsters from the Downtown Kingston community of Parade Gardens, and their journey is now being highlighted, as Run Free: The Documentary is set to premiere today
at The Serengeti, Hope Zoo.
Local non-profit youth development organisation Manifesto Jamaica, in association with the British Council and the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), established Run Free as the Jamaican extension of NTS’ theatrical production, JUMP, in 2014. The project evolved into a three-year intervention built around physical theatre, parkour and storytelling. NTS trainers taught Run Free participants the foundation elements of parkour, a discipline that relies exclusively on body movement to manoeuvre through obstacle-laden environments with ease, grace and flow. Team members from NTS and Manifesto Jamaica also worked intensely to capture the participants’ personal stories and natural talents during the creation of an authentic, Jamaican theatre piece that incorporated parkour.
Ultimately, the Run Free production culminated with a standing ovation and stand-out reviews, on its debut at NTS’ Home Away Festival in Scotland’s home of international theatre, Tramway.
“We experienced the full range of emotions on this journey; elation, disappointment, joy, grief, love and fear,” says Lesley-Ann Welsh, project manager and Manifesto Jamaica’s managing director. “In the end though, these young men overcame numerous challenges to achieve a spectacular feat and, in turn, inspire an entire community. Our hope is that the documentary will continue to move people and agitate them into action.”
While the theatre project invoked the JUMP model, Run Free: The Documentary is a legacy output unique to the Jamaican pilot. It is an epic, heart-wrenching hero’s story, directed by Simon Sharkey and Benjamin Zecher, chronicling the progress of 11 young Jamaican men, their struggles and triumphs from the start of the Run Free project, to their international performance in Scotland, to the reception of their community as well as their own reflections on returning home. The 66-minute film was completed in 2018, based on footage captured during the project’s implementation from 2014 to 2016 and post-project interviews in 2017.
Country director for the British Council, Olayinka Jacobs-Bonnick, said, “The Run Free programme was one of the reasons I wanted to work for the British Council in Jamaica. It brings into sharp focus the role and importance of the arts in social change.”
Run Free participant, Daniel McGillvary, shared his testimonial: “I think it’s a good story that can help other yutes that are coming up. We could have chosen another path. We could have chosen the gun path. But based on our decision to stick to Run Free, and the experiences we’ve had, we realize that badness doesn’t really pay.”
Manifesto Jamaica has been working since 2010, to educate, expose and empower youth through art and culture. Run Free is the second project it has executed in partnership with the British Council and also their second with National Theatre of Scotland.