If you thought Jamaica was only about the influence of Bob Marley, then Peter Webber’s new documentary aims to de-mystify that statement. Inna de Yard is a spiritually exhilarating portrait that profoundly examines the pioneers of reggae music with a cultural heart, soul and lots of love.

It is an odd match-up considering Peter Webber’s previous work includes The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Hannibal Rising, but having said that, you have to admire Webber’s sense of conviction, confidence, and direction. This could have been a documentary that just reunited musicians, gave some quick updates about their musical career and ended with a reunion concert.  But amazingly, Inna de Yard escapes those basic formalities, opting for something personal and educational that strikes at the foundation of Jamaica’s greatest export.

Webber constructs a free-flowing musical movement; One, by delving into reggae’s historical roots and its significant influences by charting its evolvement from the fast-paced dance sensation of ska music in the 60s, the slow-down tunes of rocksteady to the progressive and conscionable music we hear today that is recognised worldwide. Secondly, Inna de Yard devotes significant time with its legendary artists.

The personal stance is commendable with Webber creating a suitable platform for their introduction, taking on board the assumption that you’ve never heard of Ken Boothe, Judy Mowatt, Winston McAnuff, Kiddus I or Cedric Myton.  There are some missed opportunities, especially musically, but that doesn’t detract from its overall intentions.  With an easy, almost relaxed zen vibe, the documentary is more invested in what drives its artists, be it historically, emotionally, physically and philosophically.  Their stories are the heartbeat of the film, taking its audience on an insightful (yet brief) journey through their music and what it reflectively signifies to them as a legacy.  In a rare opportunity where their stories could have been lost forever, they’re in the spotlight, controlling how they want their story to be acknowledged and told.

And their stories are heartbreaking accounts, laced either with personal tragedy, systemic environments or cases where despite their celebrity, they’ve not had the career to reap the financial benefits from.  Seemingly, it’s only Ken Boothe who has managed to maintain a decent living.  But even in his own words, fame is just arbitrary considering how the pressures of the industry can even befoul him.

Yet despite the tragedies and sacrifices, Inna de Yard is an inspirational piece of work.  It thrives by capturing the unmistakable sentimentality with the inevitable juxtapose of the struggles and hardships that helped cement the genre.  Webber doesn’t try and hide its inescapable undertones, and neither do its artists, diving ‘headfirst’ into its duelling conflict.  But by successfully wrestling with this notion, Inna de Yard manages to capture not only the natural and picturesque beauty of Kingston, Jamaica, but the raw, acoustics of its music begins to take on a deeper, and more articulative meaning.

And there’s something overwhelmingly satisfactory with that direction; there’s a sense of community that unites and sparks a generational mind.  It shows how music can inspire.  It shows how music can communicate through the toughest and darkest times.  Inna de Yard celebrates life at its fullest, and it wouldn’t have it any other way.  To everyone involved, this is family.

When the documentary does occasionally return to its concert-style performance, then the musical context is put into perspective.  It’s an orthodox approach to filmmaking, but emotionally, there’s a cathartic poignancy that’s impossible to ignore, and throughout, Inna de Yard’s determined resilience is on full display.

It is, however, a male-centric documentary with Judy Mowatt and Jah9 tailgating the near end of the documentary as its female representatives. Thankfully, the documentary does exemplify the significant contributions women had with reggae music, but this late stage, it feels all too brief and tact-on. We don’t get to spend time with Judy in the same way we spend time with Cedric or Winston for example. And once you hear Black Woman with all of its empowering significances, it again represents another golden opportunity missed in not exploring that depth.

But taking nothing away from Webber’s directorial efforts, Inna de Yard serves a joyous occasion in reflecting a culture not necessarily highlighted enough and a musical generation of artists that we owe a great debt to. If that’s not enough incentive to load up Spotify and delve into their catalogue, I don’t know what else will.

Dir: Peter Webber

Scr: Peter Webber

Cast: Ken Boothe, Derajah, Kiddus I., Jah9, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt, Cedric Myton

Prd: Laurent Baudens, Laurent Flahault, Yann Legay, Gaël Nouaille

DOP: Bernard Benant

Music: Ken Boothe, Derajah, Kiddus I., Jah9, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt, Cedric Myton

Country: France

Year: 2019

Runtime: 95 mins

Inna de Yard is available on DVD, blu-ray and digital on 20th January, order your copy here.