Nearly 40 years after its rejection from a United States premiere at the New York Film Festival, Frank Rosso’s cult British reggae film, “Babylon,” has been released for screenings around the nation and will play at the Wexner Center for the Arts on June 7 and 8 at 7 p.m.
“Babylon” first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980, but after screenings on the Croisette and at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was deemed “too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension” at the New York Film Festival, according to Vivien Goldman’s report in “Time Out.”
“The film had what you would call a traditional theatrical release and life in Britain. And it’s been pretty highly regarded there as one of the greatest cult films about music and reggae and black life in the ‘80s,” Chris Stults, associate film and video curator at the Wexner Center, said.
The drama is set in south London where Blue (Brinsley Forde), a reggae dancehall DJ and founding member of the British reggae group Aswad, battles racism, xenophobia and police brutality as he pursues his musical career.
“There have been people — especially with streaming and other options — looking to rediscover films that have been overlooked in this country. So there’s a lot of distributors that are always keeping an eye out,” Stults said.
Kino Lorber Repertory and Seventy-Seven, a new boutique distributor, discovered “Babylon” and brokered a deal with AMBI Distributors, which allowed for its first U.S. release on March 8 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Since it opened, the screenings have been selling out, Stults said.
“It’s only because of this release that it came to my attention. But as soon as I heard about it, it’s exactly the type of work we like to show: a film that might’ve been suppressed in its time but it’s now relevant,” Stults said. “I think the film really ties into a lot of discussions that are happening now about class and race.”
Tickets cost $6 for members, students and seniors and $8 for the general public.