WITH the pedigree of Hollywood power couple Will and Jada Smith as executive producers and a cameo appearance by Olympic sprint icon Usain Bolt, you go into Jamaican sports drama Sprinter with some high expectations. Thankfully writer/director Storm Saulter (Better Mus’ Come) presents a heart-warming, funny, edgy, stylish, and entertaining coming-of-age tale that eschews some well-worn stereotypes.
The film took home three awards at the 2018 American Black Film Festival Awards in Miami in June, Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature, the Audience Award in the category Best Film and also Best Director. Sprinter had its TT premiere as part of the TT Film Festival 2018 and showed to a sold-out audience at MovieTowne, Port of Spain.
Sprinter is the story of teenager Akeem Sharp whose mother left him at a young age to go to the United States and sends money back for the family. Sharp dreams of emulating his brother Germaine, a former 400-metre track star, who has gotten himself in some shady business dealings. Sharp’s high school coach notices that he is better suited to the 200-metre and that sparks his trajectory as sprint star “The Rasta Rocket” (so named because of his dreadlocks). But before he can reach the finish line of success Sharp will have to face deep-seated family issues, temptations and what it means to be a man.
Sharp is played by Jamaican social media celebrity and relative acting newcomer Dale Elliot. Saulter said during the Q&A segment that Elliot was a former track athlete himself and the story of Sharp coincidentally mirrored Elliot’s life in a number of ways as he grew up without his parents. Inexperienced actors can be problematic but it works for the young, naive character and Elliot also has an authenticity to his performance.
The other performances hit their marks as well: American actor David Alan Grier, best known for sketch TV series In Living Colour, is delightful as Coach Miller though his Jamaican accent still needed some work; Trinidadian-American actress Lorraine Toussaint is resonant as Sharp’s absent mother; Bryshere L Gray is a love-to-hate antagonist as the boastful US athlete Marcus Brick; Jamaican actress Shantol Jackson is refreshing as sharp-tongue female sprinter Kerry; Dennis Titus is solid as Sharp’s troubled father; and Jamaican actor/musician Kadeem Wilson steals the show as Sharp’s wayward brother. The Bolt cameo was a welcome touch and there was also a surprising cameo from the country’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness which demonstrated a level of support for film that other Caribbean countries could do well to emulate.
The film’s punchy soundtrack keeps the action moving and is a mixture of old tracks and new, including unreleased music from American singer Ne-Yo and Jamaican dancehall artiste Shenseea. It is clear that Saulter took time to get the music right as the tracks never distract but always complement scenes. The use of Alkaline’s Champion Boy, as Sharp is being celebrated by his schoolmates following a successful performance, is pitch perfect.
The Sprinter’s storyline could have travelled a clichéd path – Sharp gets hooked on drugs, falls into a life of crime, he gets a girl pregnant and has to face the prospect of becoming a father, et cetera. But producer Robert Maylor told the TTFF audience they wanted to avoid the stereotypes so it was gratifying to see that these overly-used tropes were avoided.
The pacing of the film is also very well done. Between crime intrigue, pulse-pounding races, sexual misadventures and family drama, Sprinter never drags and there is always something happening. The ending, which I will not spoil, is not mind-blowing but still satisfying. Saulter said the film is still to be premiered in Jamaica and it is likely to impress audiences there as it did in TT. Rating: Sprinter gets 5/5 Rasta Rockets.