Fire In Babylon (2010) D: Stevan Riley

Fire In Babylon

There have been a number of noteworthy sporting documentaries made in the past which have more than sport at their heart. Hoop Dreams and When We Were Kings spring immediately to mind with determination and struggle being a shared theme. While these films were US-centric in their subject, Fire In Babylon looks at a tumultuous time in the sport of Cricket – chosen summer game of England and her “colonies”. It is this colonisation that is somewhat at the centre of the film’s loftier themes.

Using an interesting array of archival photographs, interviews with the films subjects (Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Viv Richards etc) and shock UK tabloid headlines, director Stevan Riley creates a sort of living scrapbook that tells the story of the lowest ebbs and eventual rise of the West Indies cricket team, who battled mediocrity while subject to appalling racism from crowds and opposing teams alike. At the time, Apartheid was in full swing within South Africa, a country who also fielded a cricket team.

Introducing the audience to the team as it was in 1976, led by Clive Lloyd and on tour in Australia, Riley maps a narrative arc not unlike an inspirational sports-themed action movie along the lines of Rocky. Here we have our heroes, an undertrained band of cricketers who are set upon by the twin evils of Australia’s fast bowlers and an Australian public who make them feel, in their words, like ‘travelling minstrels’. Humiliated by defeat at the hands of dangerous fast bowling in Australia, our heroes gather themselves and recruit some fast bowlers of their own, only to return to the cricketing stage and set the sport alight with incredible feats of athleticism and skill never before seen. We learn, in fact, that the team never once lost a test series between 1980 and 1993.

Punctuated by an incredible reggae and calypso soundtrack, as well as performances by Carribean musicians, Fire In Babylon is immensely entertaining. The film skillfully shows the link between the success of the team on the field and the development of a national character and self pride back in the West Indies – leading, it is posited, to a surge in creativity that reached Bob Marley & the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff and other famous Jamaican artists.

Many viewers old enough will remember when the “Windies” were the rock stars of the game, but some may not have paid much attention to the indignities to which they were subjected – including an offer to play in South Africa as ‘honorary whites’. Fire In Babylon is not just a film for fans of cricket or it’s history, but for those interested in this political history, or even just Carribean music.

Fire In Babylon opened the 14th Perth Revelation Film Festival and screens again on the 16th, 22nd and 24th of July. Check the site for details.

Inspirational story about a team who played for more than the win.
4 stars

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~ by mfnm on July 16, 2011.

One Response to “Fire In Babylon (2010) D: Stevan Riley”

  1. aah yes, the days of the Master Blaster, Big Bird and Supercat. Never was there a cricketer more arrogant and more rightfully so than Vivian Richards

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