Jamaica — Hollywood South? (Photo: Thinkstock)
Global Renaissance Entertainment Group, a marketing and film production company, hopes to make Annie Palmer a household name to scare people for years to come. The forthcoming movie, “Annie Palmer - The White Witch of Rose Hall,” is part of a major push for Jamaica to become a new film industry hot spot.
Just in time for Halloween, I traveled to Montego Bay to experience the haunted Rose Hall firsthand and talk with the team about what they hope to bring to the island in terms of money, filming — and tourism.
Jamaica’s haunted Rose Hall is the setting for a new film (Photo: Nina Parker)
But first, a little horror story of my own that I experienced, courtesy of Annie Palmer.
According to the legend, the spirit of Annie Palmer haunts the grounds of Rose Hall, a former sugar-cane plantation. The story goes that Annie was born in England to an English mother and an Irish father, and spent most of her life in Haiti. At the age of 10, she lost both parents to yellow fever and was subsequently adopted by her long-time nanny. This nanny taught Annie witchcraft and voodoo. Eventually, Annie married a man named John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall Plantation, and moved to Jamaica. The story says Annie inherited the plantation after murdering John, along with her next two husbands and numerous slaves, before finally being murdered by her long-time slave lover “Takoo.”
Annie Palmer’s tomb at Rose Hall (Photo: Urban Walnut/Wikimedia Commons)
Production on “The White Witch” is set to begin next year, and in a unique way to promote the impending film, the GR group took me on an “interactive tour” of Rose Hall. (And just so we’re clear, “interactive” means that locals dress up as “ghost slaves” to scare people to pieces.)
We started the tour at the front of Rose Hall, where the mansion was lit up in red. On this particular night, it had been raining, conveniently enough. Our eccentric tour guide began telling us Annie’s ill-fated story, from her childhood to her life as a slave owner and black widow. As we went from room to room — many equipped with centuries-old artifacts — secret doors popped out from the floorboards and the walls, and otherworldly sounds could be heard all around. A sense of overwhelming creepiness filled the spaces.
Annie Palmer’s bedroom (Photo: Sarah Ackerman/Flickr)
There has been some dispute as to how accurate the Annie Palmer legend really is, but the tour definitely left me wanting to see more. Just be prepared to scream along the way.
What will all of this mean for Jamaica? After our tour (and a drink to calm us all down)‚ the GR group and Michael Rollins, whose family purchased Rose Hall in the Sixties, held a press conference to talk about “The White Witch of Rose Hall” and what this film franchise could not only mean for Montego Bay, but for the island and its citizens.
“Jamaica has been near and dear to my heart. To have a project like this, from Jamaica, filmed in Jamaica, is something that our family has been trying to realize for over fifty years now,” said Michael Rollins, owner of Rose Hall.
In addition to planning the film trilogy, co-executive producer Michael Rollins said there are plans to release a series of novels to accompany each film to further drive attention to the story. Think an adult “Twilight” with a voodoo twist. Also attached to the film is “Final Destination” franchise creator Jeffrey Reddick, who be executive producing and writing for the film.
“We are budgeting each film between twenty to thirty million dollars each,” said Dale Godboldo, COO of GR media. “We are looking at something epic, something that will resonate not only with the island, but with the international market.”
The city of Toronto has been referred to as Hollywood North, for the filming of major motion pictures and the massive amounts of money it brings to its city in return. And if this film becomes the titan of a film trilogy that the producers are aiming for, Jamaica plans to give Toronto a little run for its money. At least if Global Renaissance Entertainment Group has anything to say about it.
A beach in Montego Bay (Photo: Nina Parker)
This isn’t the first time Jamaica has played a starring role in Hollywood: the island is known for movies like Jimmy’s Cliff’s “The Harder They Come“ (1972) and ”How Stella Got Her Groove Back“ (1998). And who could forget the story of the Olympic bobsled team in ”Cool Runnings“ (1983)? Of course, Jamaica itself could be a character in a film. Its warmth, rich history, and global impact breed a recipe that could guide any film into box-office gold. It’s hard to ignore what this small island has contributed to Western society, from reggae’s musical influence to dancehall; the original twerking was created and perfected there long before Miley Cyrus was born.
So having “The White Witch of Rose Hall” set in Montego Bay, the island’s second largest city, could prove an additional boost to tourism and give the audience a history lesson that will make the island not only the film’s backdrop, but an integral key character as well.
Granted, becoming a major competitor in the film industry isn’t an easy task, but it’s something that has been a focus of the Jamaican Film Commission, which was established in 1984 to attract filmmakers to the island — and it has serviced over 3,500 films during that time period. According to Arthur Wylie, the CEO of GR Entertainment Group, tax credits are bringing film productions to the country to compete with other cities, and in the case of “The White Witch of Rose Hall,” the filmmakers are looking into ways to provide incentives to create as many jobs as possible. One plan is to cast actors from the island, use local film crews and catering services, and give back to organizations to help boost the local economy. Everyone involved in the film has a true dedication to the people surrounding Rose Hall — and beyond.
The investment is not only in the film, but in the country. And they hope to frighten everyone along the way.
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