"German Town the Lost Story of Seaford Town Jamaica” is a documentary that explores the history of German heritage within Westmoreland Jamaica.
Deep within the isolated undeveloped mountains of Westmoreland lies a village with a history and people unique to Jamaica.
It is said that the inhabitants of this village are descendants of German indentured servants who were used to work the Jamaican plantations after the emancipation period to substitute the slave labour that drove the islands economy.
Others think they came under different circumstances as runaway prisoners, former military battered after the Napoleonic wars seeking a better life to escape the poverty and hardships in their home lands. This documentary project explores the history and contemporary life of Jamaicans of German heritage.
CEM did a Q & A with David Ritter, the producer of "German Town the Lost Story of Seaford Town Jamaica" Tell us about David Ritter
David Ritter is a Pandora’s Box covered in a billion jigsaw puzzles and topped with a Rubik’s cube. He is a chameleon and an enigma, and flips more lids than a monkey in a soup kitchen.
Is this your first time producing?
I have directed and produced/created many other projects, but this is my most detailed and highest funded project I have ever done. I started making documentaries and video projects as part of a web series. I made a mini on Seaford Town, Jamaica and it became rather popular. I received a phone call from a producer named Clinton H. Wallace, who wanted me to collaborate with his company Photomundo to create a feature length documentary On Seaford Town Jamaica. So I did.
What was the inspiration behind ‘German Town: The Lost Story of Seaford Town Jamaica’
There were many things that inspired me to make this program. Ignorance of the historic and cultural diversity that is within Jamaica, The lack of publicity and research on places like Seaford Town, I suppose if I was to sum up my inspiration I would quote Marcus Garvey, who said - " A people without knowledge of their past is history is like a tree without roots" Jamaican Nationalists and Black Nationalists within Jamaican society inspired me.
Listening to Peter Tosh sing songs with lyrics like “Don’t care where you’re from as long as you’re a black man you’re an African. No mind your nationality you got the identity of an African". I was always inspired by the passion people like, Tosh, Marley, Sizzla have in their African roots and identity but I myself am of German/European stock so where does that leave me?
When I hear people like Mutabaruka big up Africa and African people I know he is not singing to me. I wanted to celebrate the people of German heritage in Jamaica and the German history the same way people I grew up listening to big up and celebrate theirs.
I was very surprised to learn about Germans living in Jamaica, why you think a lot of Jamaicans are unaware of this history.
First off, the people in my documentary are not Germans living in Jamaica they are Jamaicans living in Jamaica. They are Jamaicans of German lineage, however some people from Seaford town still refer to themselves and fellow German descended villagers as Germans. Many Jamaicans in the Westmoreland region still refer to them as Germans as well.
I think many Jamaicans do not know about this history because it was a very small migration of Germans that came to Jamaica. There has never been a mass migration of Germans in Jamaica when you compare them to all of Jamaica's other ethnic groups and nations who migrated to the island over the years. I think there is also a great deal of secrecy amongst the people of Seaford town that creates more mystery and lack of understanding. Historically the people of Seaford Town kept to themselves and rarely left their village and many have migrated abroad. It is a small piece of the Jamaican fabric.
I also think Jamaica is much more embracing of its African heritage than its European heritage on a whole. Jamaica embraces Black Nationalist leaders and thinkers and being that most Jamaicans are primarily of African heritage people have a natural biased and interest in those roots while other Jamaicans take a more multicultural pan Jamaican look at their identity. Some Jamaicans wish to reject ethnic heritage and see themselves only as Jamaican with no hyphenated attached title like German or African just Jamaican. This creates a situation where ethnic heritage from small enclaves can be overlooked and forgotten or simply unknown.
While doing the film did you discover anything that was surprising to you?
I was surprised that many Jamaicans of German lineage did not know a great deal about their heritage and family history. I was surprised to see how so many people knew little of their cultural and ethnic roots. I also found the biased and bigotry I would face while making this documentary surprising. I was attacked in many ways by many people. I was surprised how angry the German Embassy in Kingston was when they found out I made this project. I was surprised how many Jamaican oligarchs have done all they can to hinder the documentary and its promotion. It was surprising and upsetting to see how dedicated many people in high up places were to censoring the documentary and hindering its publicity and how they do not want people seeing and hearing the information relayed within the project.
How do you put together a plan to make a documentary like this?
For me I just fly by the seat of my pants. I have an idea and then I put together as much money as I can for expenses and then go and do it. It’s just me with some microphones and my camera. My interviews are just conversations I have with people I meet on the way. I found an apartment to rent in a village just outside of Seaford Town and dedicated a month and a half to filming in the village and I set out to film anyone and anything that I thought was relevant to the subject matter.
When it’s all said and done I just edit on my own. I have a friend with a recording studio and we compose music together and set it to the project. I then write an objective narration, go over it and get it recorded and mixed. I hate to sound like a tennis shoe cliché slogan but I just do it is how I go about it.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I think finding support economically and proper publicity has been a big challenge. Though there have been breakthroughs now that I am selling the documentary on DVD that helps fund the touring that promotes and exposes the project. Now more and more events are now coming fourth and more and more publicity with that but it has been far from easy.
Did you get funding or was it self-funded?
It was mostly funded out of my own pocket but I did have two small donations that equal around 350 dollars U.S., very small I know but I work on a very small budget.
You have special screening various cities across US and Canada, any plans for the Caribbean?
It has been screened across Canada, USA, and the UK and possibly Iceland as well in the near future. I have been trying to get this project screened in the Caribbean since 2011. It has been ignored by all institutions I have approached. The only ones that have responded told me I would have to pay them large sums of money and when I explained that I was happy to present the project free of charge to the public they still insisted I pay them. I know when I am being hustled so I move on from those kinds of places. I met with someone who runs a promotional company in Kingston Jamaica. They told me my project would never be seen in Jamaica because they said and I quote " The Jamaican people are not ready to hear about the things you talk about in your documentaries" I continue to look for venues in the Caribbean but still have found no support.
What platform provides the best opportunities for up-and-coming documentarians to get their work screened and find their audience?
Right now I would say the internet is the strongest tool and means. I simply put my work on you tube and let the word spread virally. After that I just tour and go from venue to venue screening and speaking. I screen in many universities, Colleges, Cultural centers, and independent cinemas/art house cinemas.
Is there one piece of advice you could offer others looking to make their own documentary
Make something that you are passionate about and make something that has never been done before and if it has been done before give it a unique angle and make it original. If you are truly passionate and care about your subject matter then there are thousands, millions maybe even billions of other people who are passionate as well. Keep pushing forward to connect with them. Be brave and be honest and do not let contrived Orthodoxies or political correctness or corporate interests hinder the truth. Approach your subject without biased and be fair and balanced and have compassion for the people you are documenting. Do not let people bully you because if your project is saying something poignant or challenging to society you will be attacked by people who refuse to hear you or the people in your project. Orwell said that the further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it. Nietzsche said people do not want to hear the truth because they do not want their illusions destroyed. Do not let people discourage you and hold you back.
I met the actor and now film director Crispin Glover recently. He told me that anything that challenges corporate interest within media will most always face censorship and hindrance within the mainstream media. As I walked away, I heard him call out to me “David, do not give up keep pushing forward". That is the same advice I would give anyone else.