By Leah 'Simply Leah' McNeil
It’s Jamaica night at the 2019 CaribbeanTales International Film Festival and the final presentation of the night is entitled Last Street. This full length film screened at The Carlton Cinemas in Toronto is directed by Amanda Sans Pantling who is based out of Barcelona, Spain, and Jamaica.
Amanda Sans Pantling is known to the Caribbean community for her work such as Songs of Redemption, and Tell the Children the Truth. If you have seen any of these films you would understand why Last Street was so highly anticipated. Last Street documents the climate in West Kingston; more specifically Denham Town after the extradition of Christopher Dudus Coke. During this time the lives of 73 people in West Kingston were lost. Those who survived were mentally and emotionally scarred. To this day, the effects of this horrific period have been shown through an increase of violence. At the time this documentary was filmed, it was determined that most of the violence occurring in this part of Jamaica had no justifiable cause. The gangs were run by teenagers using gun violence to resolve just about every issue, such as matters of the heart. In Last Street we meet a former gang member named ‘Neiley’. He tells us his story of gang banging, stating that he was once “the most wanted by police and gangs.” Neiley made the choice to change his life, because he didn’t want to end up dead. Now a member of the Violence Interrupters, Neiley has dedicated his life to trying to reform these gangbanging teenagers by having simple ‘choose your battles’ type conversations.
Watching this film gives the viewer a more realistic view on Denham Town and its inhabitants. Based on the footage chosen for this film, you would get the impression that these people don’t have much. No glimpse of children on their way to or from school, just the townspeople lounging on street corners. If we see a woman she’s surrounded by children and the men are chain smoking cigarettes while drinking Wray and Nephew, the spirit of Jamaica. As we go on we meet other members of the Violence Interrupters and see them interacting with existing gang members to try and talk them out of their lifestyles. What we also see is a community who has not managed to figure out how to cope without their now jailed leader Christopher Dudus Coke. The only glimmer of hope we see throughout this film comes from Neiley’s determination to eliminate the unnecessary violence in his hometown.
Amanda Sans Pantling did good to bring awareness to the harsh realities this community constantly faces. It almost seems as though Denham Town has been forgotten by Jamaica, period. Last Street reminds us that Denham Town does exist with real people that could use a bit of guidance. It was sad to see and hear that gunfire could become so common, that it’s referred to as background noise. This film is a must see, and it was a great way to close Jamaica night at the film festival.
*Editor’s note: Last Street was screened at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival ‘19