Take a journey into a beautiful, mysterious, endangered landscape--the Cockpit Country, Jamaica's last remaining wilderness.
UPDATE 7/27: We did it! Thanks to everyone who is making this dream a reality! We're still accepting pledges through month end--can we make it to $6000?
UPDATE 7/8: Check out this short documentary I've been helping put together about one of Cockpit Country's Maroon communities:
A Paradise in Peril
Just beyond the tourist-filled resorts on Jamaica's coast, a battle is brewing over one of the Caribbean's last remaining reserves of pristine tropical forest, a little-known area known as the Cockpit Country. This area is rich in many kinds of resources:
Natural beauty: The rugged karst landscape is a photographer's dream. It's easy to see why William Knibb called this "one of the most lovely spots on earth" in 1838.
- Biological diversity: The Cockpits host at least 66 endemic plant species and offer a refuge for rare and endangered wildlife, such as the Black-billed parrot, Giant Swallow-tail butterfly, and Jamaican yellow boa.
- Ecological and economic importance: Most of the water supply for northern and western Jamaica originates here.
- Historical and cultural significance: Here lies the mountain stronghold of the Leeward Maroons, escaped slaves who fought for and gained independence from British rule in 1739, forty years before the American Revolution and 100 years before Emancipation in the West Indies.
All of this richness is threatened, however, by pressure from the bauxite mining industry, which has been lobbying the perennially cash-strapped Jamaican government to issue mining permits in the region. Bauxite mining is a highly destructive process that has devastated communities in other parts of the island, and yet still it has taken the combined efforts of numerous environmental groups so far to keep the government from issuing prospecting licenses here.
Here at the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), where I am a volunteer, we believe the best instrument we have in this fight is public awareness. With this project, we hope to use the powerful medium of film to establish the importance of preserving this special place, both in the eyes of the public and their elected representatives. We want to produce a feature-length documentary, shot in HD video, which will showcase the beautiful vistas, fascinating history, and unique culture of Cockpit Country.
A Personal Journey
I'm thrilled to be leading this project. When I first came to Jamaica last year as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the Cockpit Country drew me in and captured my imagination. That excitement and fascination that I felt when I first encountered the Cockpits is what I want to capture on film.
Part nature documentary, part oral history, part adventure travelogue, the film's story will begin and end in the small farming community of The Alps, where I now call home. We'll put a human face to this place by conducting interviews with local residents and farmers, community leaders, and experts on the environmental, social, and economic challenges the region faces. We'll venture into the bush to travel ancient trails, photograph wildlife, and explore deep cave systems left behind by the underground rivers that flow under the karst limestone landscape.
Traveling around the Cockpit Country, the film will tell the stirring tale of the Maroons and others who have managed, against enormous odds, to form communities and thrive for generations within this unique ecosystem. We'll contrast the untouched beauty of the Cockpits with the toxic legacy of open bauxite mining elsewhere on the island, and profile the efforts of those working to simultaneously develop and protect the Cockpit Country, providing economic opportunities for the local residents while minimizing damage to the environment. We'll demonstrate that there is real value--economic, environmental, spiritual--to be had in maintaining the pristine character of the Cockpit Country.
Where You Come In
Even on a peanut-butter-and-ramen-noodles budget, producing the film is going to take money, and STEA is a non-profit organization with limited funds and a staff of volunteers, including myself. We've received some donations of audio-visual equipment already (camera, mini-tripod, microphone), and we are pursuing some grant funding for the latter stages of this project. However, we are scheduled to get started this summer, and to produce a high-quality film, we still need some more A/V gear (e.g. lights for caving, tripod, steadicam, external mics, additional batteries, a few more TBs of hard drive space, maybe even (I'm thinking big) a weather balloon for aerial shots), and we must pay living and travel expenses for myself and the crew while we make the film. This is where you come in!
By supporting this project, you'll not only be helping STEA in our on-the-ground development efforts in rural Jamaica, but you'll be investing in a creative project dear to my own heart, which will record a unique place at a critical time and preserve it for years to come. You'll be adding your name to the list of those who care about protecting this forgotten corner of the world from unchecked resource extraction. And you'll also be pre-ordering one of the special reward packages on this page!
$5,000 is the minimum we're going to need to really get the project off the ground; any additional money raised will allow us to spend more time on this, make a better film, and distribute it more widely. So please, make a pledge; even small pledges of $5 make a big difference!
After the fundraising period, updates on the filmmaking progress will be posted on the project's official website at http://cockpitcountrymovie.com (we've upgraded from the alpsjamaica.com/film address given above).
For international shipping of rewards (outside of the U.S. and Jamaica), please add $10 to your pledge.
Preview credits: Thanks to Brad, Peter, Emily, Ross, Ainsworth, Pops, & the Ennis family. Big ups to Andrew for the camera. Special thanks to Television Jamaica and the Smile Jamaica team. Music: "Ana - Vieux Farka Toure ft. Rayhan" by Rayhan Khan on ccMixter.
Every way we can! We want to get the word out to as large an audience as possible, so we'll try to get it into film festivals, stage public screenings, show it on television, distribute copies to like-minded organizations, sell DVDs to the public, and make it available through online video services.
Some of the rewards, like the postcards, will be mailed out as soon as the fundraising campaign is over. Others won't be available until we finish the film, obviously. I'm reluctant to set a firm deadline for the completion of the film, as unexpected events may occur that cause delays. That being said, I'm shooting for the end of 2011 to have the feature film complete. We are also working on some complementary projects along the way, such as an oral history archive and mini-doc for the village of The Alps, which have working deadlines at the end of summer 2011. As things unfold, I'll keep all supporters posted on our progress at http://cockpitcountrymovie.com.
Yes! Just contact me (mailto:email@example.com) to tell me the pledge amount and we'll make arrangements. I have to use a third party with a credit card to add these kinds of pledges on Kickstarter, so please don't wait till the last minute.
Yes, this is a serious effort to make a real film. The film will not have the production values of a big-budget documentary, and it probably won't cover everything that all the parties interested in the Cockpit Country would like to include, but I promise that it will be an honest, careful portrayal of the subject. I would be delighted if this film is superseded by a more professional effort in the future, but the funding for projects of this kind is always limited, and so far no one else has stepped forward to do anything like this. If you're interested in supporting a more fully-funded effort to make a high-quality Cockpit Country documentary, I can think of no better way to show that there is a need for such a project than by helping this one to be made and distributed!
Are you worried that encouraging tourism in the Cockpit Country might actually contribute to its environmental degradation?
This is a tough question. It's a debate that rages continually in STEA's office and elsewhere in Jamaican conservation circles. STEA has come out in favor of increased nature-based tourism here primarily because we believe that it's the best weapon we have against the bauxite mining threat, which is very real. The argument basically goes: If we can show Cockpit Country residents, and the Jamaican government, that there is economic benefit to be had from eco-tourism here, they are less likely to listen to the promises of short-term revenue from the mining companies. We're essentially betting that any environmental damage from the development of tourist facilities would be an order of magnitude lower than that which could be done by allowing bauxite mining here.
Yes, and I did not intend to endorse their introduction by including them. The preview video is simply intended to give people a feel for this place, and is a pretty far cry from my vision for the end product. Watch the mini-doc about Flagstaff to get a better idea of the tone and feel I'll be shooting for in the actual documentary.
No problem! I respect your privacy. You are free to use a pseudonym when making the pledge on Kickstarter, and I will be contacting all backers after the fundraising period to ask you what name, if any, you want to appear on the website and/or in the film.
Certainly! I'll survey all backers to send me a picture/logo and a website address they'd like to be included in the website credits. Backers at the $75 level or above will have the option to include the picture/logo and web address in the film credits, as well. (This is optional; if you just want your name, or no name at all, to appear, it's your choice!)
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Pledge $5 or moreYou selected
You'll receive a thank-you on the film's website (alpsjamaica.com/film) and a digital download of the finished film.
Pledge $10 or moreYou selected
Get a thank-you on the website, digital download of the film, and a handwritten original postcard from The Alps, Jamaica.
Pledge $20 or moreYou selected
Get everything above, plus a limited-edition DVD of the finished film before it's officially released.
Pledge $35 or moreYou selected
Get everything above, plus an extras DVD with bonus scenes and extended interviews and a limited-edition Cockpit Country refrigerator magnet.
Pledge $75 or moreYou selected
Get everything above, plus the original Jamaican soundtrack to the film (artists TBA), a signed movie poster, and your name listed as a patron in the credits to the film. Your name will appear in the film itself!
Pledge $125 or moreYou selected
Get everything above, plus a high-definition Blu-Ray Disc version of the film, a Cockpit Country adventure map and guide, and a personal thank-you phone call or video chat with me.
Pledge $250 or moreYou selected
4 backers Limited (16 left of 20)
Everything above, plus a Kickstarter-exclusive signed numbered landscape print, a bottle of locally-produced yam wine, a copy of the 2007 mini-documentary "Cockpit Country: Voices from Jamaica's Heart", and your name will appear in larger type in a special section of the film credits.
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
1 backer Limited (9 left of 10)
Everything above, plus come to Jamaica and enjoy an all-inclusive 2-night stay for two at The Lookout (alpslookout.com) and a day tour package for two from Cockpit Country Adventure Tours (stea.net/tours) (travel to Jamaica not included).
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)
Everything above, plus Associate Producer credit in the film, access to all the raw footage, notes, photos, and GPS data that I accumulate while making the film, and I will personally take you to one of my favorite "hidden" natural attractions in Cockpit Country.
- (45 days)