Q&A with Inna de Yard director Peter Webber

24 Jun 2019

Film4 Summer Screen closes with the UK premiere of Inna de Yard, a love letter to the music of Jamaica starring a superstar group of reggae pioneers. We spoke to the film's British director Peter Webber (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Hannibal Rising) about making this brilliant documentary.

Kingston’s lush scenery and the film's music stays with you for a long time after seeing Inna de Yard. When did you first become fascinated by Jamaica and reggae?

Growing up in West London reggae was in the air, and the occasional song on Top of the Pops. But what really made it click for me, as a teenage punk-rocker, was hearing The Clash’s first album and the amazing cover of the Junior Murvin song ‘Police and Thieves'. That started a love affair with this kind of music that has endured to this day.

I remember the first time going over to Jamaica to meet everyone about six months before filming, I was getting off the plane, getting in a van, not knowing what the schedule was or the full list of who I had been set up to meet. We were driving down the road, and I said, “Where are we going?”, they said, “Oh we’re going to meet a musician, and he’ll cook us some lunch in his backyard”. As we got closer I asked who the musician was and they said, “Cedric”, I went “Cedric? … Cedric Myton… of The Congos?”

One amazing Congos album was one of the mainstays of reggae albums I had listened to as a teenager. So to end up with the singer and songwriter of The Congos, sitting in his backyard, having him cook red snapper and giving out Red Stripes, was really an amazing experience. The whole experience of making this film has been one of the most positive and fascinating of my career.

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Peter Webber (second on left) with (L to R): Cedric Myton, Winston McAnuff and Ken Boothe.

The film features such a charming cast of characters – from the lovable Cedric Myton to the inspiring Judy Mowatt. How did you manage to gain their confidence?

Yeah, it was a journey trying to build confidence with these guys. All of them have had long careers and there have been many ups and downs, and they’re weary because they’ve been exploited and ripped off over the years.

So some took longer than others – Judy in particular took a while. We made many visits to her house and many phone calls, finally persuading her to come up to the hills to see the guys at work, and after that it clicked and she made an amazing contribution. The trick with musicians or performers is to try and get beyond the set of things they always say to the press – try to get them to reveal something of themselves, or about where the music comes from.

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Inna de Yard album cover
Inna de Yard album cover

What was your process for choosing which artists and stories to focus on?

There was already a collective of musicians involved in the [Inna de Yard album] project which had been running for a while before I became involved, so I spent quite a bit of time in Jamaica – hanging out with them, going to their homes, talking to them and trying to uncover what would work best.

It was very important to me that the film also touched on women’s contributions to music, and that it touched on certain historical and cultural aspects. Each of the stories, each of the guys, illuminates an aspect of the Jamaican experience and each of them is a very different and quite iconic character. And although not as well-known as Bob Marley, they’re in the top rank of the performers who worked beside him.


Inna de Yard cast. Photo courtesy of Picturehouse.


Wim Wenders’ 1999 Buena Vista Social Club captured an aging group of Cuban musicians as they united to record a new album. Inna de Yard has been referred to the ‘Buena Vista Social Club for reggae’. Was this on your mind, or an inspiration for the film?

I love Wim Wenders’ work and Buena Vista is no exception, it’s an honour to have the film in the same breath. I think the films are distant relatives – different in some important ways. Reggae as a genre is more well-known worldwide, whereas Wenders’ film was really introducing something to the world. Cuban people may have known about it, I don’t think that it was out there in the culture the way that reggae is, so the films are different, also some of Wenders’ film centred around Ry Cooder’s journey to collaborate with these musicians, and I didn’t want to make something like that which had an outsider coming in, I wanted to inhabit the world and just use the voices of these guys.

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Peter Webber on set.

At Somerset House we’re committed to developing the next generation of creative professionals, with our Creative Job Studio initiative opening up the talent housed within our building to young people. Do you have any advice for young filmmakers wanting to make a successful career in the field?

I think filmmaking is one of those things you can learn by watching, you can learn by reading, but you really learn by doing it. Nowadays compared to when I started, it’s much easier to get hold of the means of production, with an iPhone or a laptop, and with a laptop you have all the basic tools. So the bar for entry is much lower than beforehand. There’s the possibility of distributing something you’ve made instantly through YouTube, whether people will watch it or not is something else with all the billions of videos that are out there.

I think the thing to do is to go out and start making stuff. Make a one-minute film. Make a two-minute film, make a five-minute film. But also to steep yourself in the history of the medium and go back and really uncover films by the greats. Go back and look at 1960s French New Wave films, go back and look at American film noir.

The business has seen enormous, enormous changes – with streaming, cinema seems to be changing and maybe fading away a little bit. It’s a very turbulent moment and that could be helpful in terms of breaking into an industry. Just look at what happened in America in the late 60s when Easy Rider came out and really disrupted the whole studio model. There was a generation of exciting new filmmakers, who broke into Hollywood at that time, the likes of Scorsese or Coppola or Bob Rafelson. So a bit of change, a bit of chaos can be good if you’re looking to get into this strange business.

Inna de Yard: Official Trailer

Throughout your career you’ve directed both documentary and narrative films. In what way does your approach to your material and your process change when working on each?

It’s like using different kinds of muscles… but you’re doing the same thing, you’re telling a story using images and sound.

One main difference is that when you’re shooting a drama everything is controlled – you’ve made lots of decisions beforehand and everything that’s brought to set has already been asked for. The danger is that things can seem dead and lifeless as they don’t have the breath of reality in them. The problem with documentaries is that it’s chaotic and can be hard to keep an eye on what the story actually is from the events that you film.

So what I always think is that you have to find the documentary in the fiction when you’re making a movie, to make it feel as detailed and fully imagined and to make it have a breath of energy and reality. But when you’re working with documentary you have to do the opposite, find the story that’s there and craft a shape to it, so you have to interpret and interrogate your rushes and turn them into the building blocks of a film.

Our major summer exhibition Get Up, Stand Up Now celebrates generations of Black creative pioneers, taking Horace Ové as a departure point. Horace’s seminal 70s film Reggae was a pivotal moment in capturing the scene, some of its key artists and introducing the music to a new audience. Have you seen the film?

Yes indeed, I watched many many hours of archive and old documentaries whilst preparing for this and selecting the archive material that I would use in my film. It’s very inspiring and there’s a few other films I think that also stand out in terms of films about reggae – Rockers, of course, and the big daddy of them all I think is probably The Harder They Come, which is one of the classics that I loved from my teenage years.