Over thirty years since his death, Bob Marley remains one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of all time. Bob Marley: Freedom Road adds to the canon of work on the man, providing viewers access to those who knew him the best.
The documentary charts Bob Marley‘s impoverished background in Jamaica, at times separated from both parents, to his meteoric rise to a worldwide star of reggae music, and his eventual death as a victim of cancer.
The film itself is unfortunately tied by its short length (at not even an hour long) but still manages to paint a portrait of the often-misunderstood man on a backdrop of his religious and political views, and the friendships that he nurtured over his short years. Unfortunately, no one aspect is thoroughly focused on and so the impression of wanting more detail is present throughout. This is emphasised by the fact that Kevin Macdonald’s outstanding documentary Marley, released April 2012, had the length to properly tackle the subject.
However, Freedom Road is successful in providing an insightful timeline plotting Bob Marley’s highs and lows throughout his career in the context of those around him. The documentary relies heavily on interviews with those close to Bob, including Esther Anderson (of Island Records, and a former partner of Marley) and Kris Needs, a journalist for Mojo Magazine who often interviewed Marley. These interviews describe Bob Marley as a truly unique individual, selfless and loving to all. The character of the man can plainly be seen, a quality documentaries often find difficult to capture.
The distinct Jamaican accent of those that are heard throughout immediately provide the documentary with a unique personality and help to replicate the atmosphere that Marley would have inhabited. The parts of his life that have, in the past, been viewed with negativity, such as his drug-use and his Rastafarian views, are handled with care and clear explanation. Music and religion were his life, and all aspects of this are treated as such.
Unfortunately, there appears to be a noticeable lack of archive footage of Marley himself, with only snippets of one interview and a small amount of live archive footage. This is where the documentary is clearly lacking, and detaches the film from its subject.
Thankfully, the pure quality of Marley’s musical output is evident throughout the film, accompanied with explanations of the importance of the parables of poverty and oppression that define his music. This is Freedom Road’s strength, as the music of Bob Marley is its focus. In the few clips of Marley that are present, it is his discussions of the importance of music to him personally that are most illuminating. The infectious spirit of reggae reaches out and, as is stated in the film, ‘you can hate reggae and still love Bob Marley’. It is this claim that defines the documentary, as one cannot help but admire and care for this historical figure, making the film well worthwhile.