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Barnes documentary available online

Message of love: film-maker Rosanne Ma with the late Johnny Barnes (Photograph supplied)

Even after his passing, Johnny Barnes’s message of love and happiness is still being felt, according to film-maker Rosanne Ma.

Mrs Ma, whose short documentary about Mr Barnes, Welcoming Arms, has screened at several international film festivals, said the Bermudian icon’s story has resonated with audiences and helped those struggling with personal demons.

“The film has been screened at festivals, schools and a drug rehabilitation centre,” she said. “Johnny’s message that ‘happiness is a choice’ is especially inspiring to those struggling with addiction.”

His message also struck a chord with the organisers of the DC Shorts Film Festival, who invited Mr Barnes to travel to Washington, all expenses paid, to be the festival’s guest of honour.

“Johnny was very appreciative but declined, saying that he suffered from claustrophobia and could not fly,” she said.

Mrs Ma and her husband was inspired to create the film during a visit to the island, filming the documentary over the course of three weeks.

In addition to interviews with Mr Barnes about his legacy, the documentary includes a series of interviews with children about Mr Barnes, along with the music of Live Wires and the art of Lisa Anne Rego.

Welcoming Arms premiered at the Bermuda International Film Festival last year, and has since been featured in a host of other film festivals, including the Big Sky Documentary Festival, the Urbanworld Film Festival, the American Documentary Film Festival and the Bahamas International Film Festival.

Speaking yesterday, Mrs Ma said she was happy to be able to show Mr Barnes the finished film before it screened at the Bermuda International Film Festival.

“We visited the roundabout a few days before the festival to invite him to the screening in Hamilton, but he politely declined,” she said. “So we brought an iPad to him the next day with noise cancelling headphones.

“When the children came on, he would chuckle and speak to the iPad, ‘I love you’ (as if he were speaking to the children in person). When his own interview came on, he listened intently and responded in agreement to his words.

“The film has been very well received outside Bermuda. During talk backs after a short film programme, Welcoming Arms is usually the film people have the most comments and questions about.

“The first question people tend to ask is how old Johnny is, and there is always an audible gasp in the theatre when I reveal his age.”

She added that viewers have often remarked about Bermuda’s natural beauty, saying that Welcoming Arms is usually the most “colourful” film in a festival programme.

Mrs Ma said the plan was always to release the film publicly once it finished its festival run, adding: “I wish it was available when Johnny passed away this July but I had to respect our agreement with the last festival.

“Our ultimate hope is to share Johnny’s story and message with as many people as possible. I hope that for Bermudians who never got the chance to meet Johnny, the film will give them a little more insight as to who he was.

“I feel so very lucky to have known him and to catch one of his kisses in person.”

The full documentary is available now on the website www.welcomingarmsfilm.com