Before the release of Marley next week, director Kevin Macdonald spoke with Grantland’s Davy Rothbart. For more with the filmmaker and about the movie, visit Grantland.com.
What’s one thing about Bob Marley that a lot of people don’t know?
I think few people realize what an amazing live performer he was. I always wish I could’ve seen him play live. He and his band really brought the house down everywhere they played. They were incredibly disciplined and rehearsed their shows with unbelievable intensity. Not only were they great musicians, they were relentless pros.
There’s essentially no footage of Bob performing in the first 10 years of his career. In a way, that’s a good thing because it means you can’t see him learning. In the footage that exists, he and the band come already fully formed, like they were born these great musicians. What people forget is that they’d practiced for 10 [freaking] years before anyone around the world really knew who they were.
What can you tell me about the last year of Bob Marley’s life?
Bob got melanoma, which is a skin cancer largely associated with white people, though not exclusively so. Of course, he was half-white and half-black. Typically, melanoma comes from overexposure to the sun. Bob got it on his toe. He was advised to have his toe amputated, but got some conflicting advice and decided not to. Gradually, it spread. Bob went to an alternative healing center in the hills of Bavaria in hopes of being cured. It’s pretty weird — much of his final year was spent in a snowy landscape in Germany, far from his home country. On his flight back to Jamaica, he grew extremely ill, and he died in Miami before he could make it home. His state funeral in Kingston, 10 days later, was attended by thousands, and he was buried with his guitar near the village where he grew up.
Your film One Day in September, which detailed the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, won an Oscar for Best Documentary, and The Last King of Scotland, which starred Forest Whitaker, was also Oscar-nominated. What’s another film of yours you’re particularly proud of?
I made a film last year called Life in a Day. Thousands of people around the world filmed their life over the course of a day and posted the clips on YouTube. We took all of that footage and edited it into one film. It was a powerful feeling to discover significance in tiny, discarded moments from people’s everyday lives.