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A Rasta woman's journey

New documentary explores the roots and influence of the Rastafari movement through the eyes of Bob Marley's granddaughter.


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There's a scene in the new documentary Rasta: A Soul's Journey where the film's hero, Donisha Prendergast, asks a Toronto Rasta man if he could imagine a world without Rastafari.

So, when faced with the same question, Prendergast says, "It would be an unimaginable place because I look at what Rastafari has offered to the world... Rastafari is my world. That's the culture I grew up in, so I don't want to imagine that."

Prendergast is the granddaughter of Bob Marley and devout follower of the Rastafari movement. In the film, which makes its Canadian premier at the Whistler Film Festival this Saturday as part of the Documentary Competition, she seeks to trace the roots and the legacy of the Rastafari movement and the disparate cultures it has influenced. The film follows her travels to Ethiopia, London, Israel, South Africa, Toronto, and Jamaica, while documenting Prendergast's personal transformation and understanding.

"You always hear young people are searching for themselves but for me, it was really about exposing myself to certain information and discovering myself from that," she says.

Being a part of the Marley family, she says she's been afforded a certain platform in which people will listen to her. She feels she has the responsibility to do something positive with her birthright.

"There's a big hypocrisy that's out there when it comes to Rastafari and being a Marley and what that is like," she says. "Doing a documentary like this put me in a position to talk about those things, to talk about the fact that Bob Marley is one of the most recognized figures in the world and still when you see a Rasta man in the street, you want to spit on him."

In some ways, this is a film about Bob Marley, his legacy and how it's touched people in opposite corners of the world. It features footage of Marley throughout, including some never seen before. Images of his likeness appear on buildings and t-shirts in various locations, and locals sing his songs, which weave each together each segment of the film, as if Marley is the thread holding many of these cultures together.

"I realize that, wow, this is a really big thing, that this man Bob Marley was such a great man but what he was able to do for strangers around the world is so great, and to really be a part of that is very humbling," she says.

The film is the brainchild of the film's producer, Patricia Scarlett, a Jamaican-born Canadian who now lives in Toronto. She had wanted to make documentary exploring the idea and she reached out to Prendergast, who had been touring Africa with her grandmother on a speaker series called Africa Unite, focusing on the young woman's role in Africa.

It documents the movement's origins in Jamaica and Ethiopia while offering insights into a culture that has been largely commercialized in the West, taking shape as Marley t-shirts, Rasta fashion, marijuana rolling papers adorned with Rasta imagery, which have cut the heart out of the movement. Few people understand that it's a movement founded in the 1930s, born out of the philosophies of Jamaican journalist and black activist Marcus Garvey and rooted in the belief that Haile Selassie I, Ethiopia's former emperor, is the resurrected manifestation of Jesus Christ.

"This is not a Jamaica story," says Stuart Samuels, the film's director. "It's about getting back to Africa, it's slavery it's about blackness. It's about consciousness of the event, which we sort of see as the end product in Jamaica and the Caribbean...in terms of culture, but we don't realize that it came from a different perspective."

Prendergast says, "It's not a religion. People project it to be a religion because they don't understand it; they haven't taken time to do the research. But Rastafari is a culture that can be practiced by people of any kind of religion. You have Hasidic Jews who are practicing Rastafari, you gave even Muslims who are practicing. Rastafari is a way of life. It's the way that you treat the word, the food that you eat. That message of peace and love, that's the basis of Rasta."