For husband and wife filmmakers, Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness, the long wait was worth it.
Eight years ago, they conceived the idea of producing a film that would highlight the plight of young people deported to countries with which they have little or no connection.
While in Grade One, Holness met O’Neil Grant who, like her, had migrated from Jamaica. They reunited a few years later in junior high school in Lawrence Heights.
The same year Holness graduated from York University with a political science degree, Grant received a deportation order after convictions for assault with a weapon and possession of a narcotic for the purpose of drug trafficking. The landed immigrant appealed and secured a temporary stay.
Two years later, in 1994, Grant and three others were accused of the high-profile murder of Georgina “Vivi” Leimonis in the botched Just Desserts café robbery on Davenport Road. Despite being acquitted after spending 68 months in the Don Jail, Grant was deported to Jamaica.
The Immigration & Refugee Board adjudicator overturned Grant’s stay, citing his failure to report a change of address – the Don Jail – to immigration authorities. He was deported in 2002 after spending more than two decades in Canada, leaving behind a common-law wife, three children, his mother and siblings.
Grant was murdered six years ago while waiting for a bus in West Kingston.
His predicament and subsequent demise partly inspired the production of Home Again, which opens in three Greater Toronto Area cinemas tomorrow.
Screened at last year’s Toronto International and Whistler Film Festivals, the 100-minute feature has received rave reviews.
It won the Festival Choice Award at this year’s Pan African Film Festival, the largest and most prestigious international Black Film Festival, which was held last month in Los Angeles.
In addition, cast members Stephan James and singer/songwriter Fefe Dobson – they were both born in the GTA – scored nominations at last month’s Canadian Screen Awards in the Performance by an Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role category.
James, 19, played the role of a spoiled British teenager deported for possession of a small quantity of drugs, while 28-year-old Dobson was cast as a native Jamaican in her debut feature film role.
Sutherland and Holness were impressed with their work ethic, creativity and ability to adapt under pressure.
“A lot of people believe Stephan is British,” said Sutherland, who directed the film. “He worked so hard on that accent. As for Fefe, she came out to play. She’s a star in music who just wanted to get into acting. She has all the tools and she can do it. She blew me away in her audition, but she did not have a Jamaican accent.”
With the help of Jamaican-born actress and artistic director, Marcia Brown and a dialect coach, Dobson made a seamless transition into her role.
“Fefe worked real hard on the set and at home and she came through with flying colours,” said Sutherland.
Other cast members included American actress and R & B singer, Tatyana Ali; Jamaican stage and screen star, Paul Campbell; Guyanese-born actress, Carol Pounder, who starred as Mo’at in Avatar and Jamaican-born Richard Chevolleau, who won a Gemini Award for his appearances on the Canadian TV drama series, The Eleventh Hour.
The dramatic feature was shot in Toronto, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, which was initially targeted for the principal photography. Because of several stumbling blocks, including the lack of government support, it was largely shot in T & T, where cash rebates of up to 30 per cent are offered for expenditures accrued by filmmakers while filming in the country.
In addition, a dedicated film desk within the Ministry of Trade & Tourism has been created to assist foreign film crews with securing permits, coordinating with Customs & Immigration and other requirements for a successful experience.
African Canadian Heritage Association board member, Louis March, was among moviegoers at an advanced screening last week.
“Home Again is a thought-provoking movie that highlights the plight of the increasing number of deportees being shipped back to Jamaica and the challenges these deportees encounter as they try to survive in a country in which they have little or zero economic or family connection,” said March. “It is a subject seldom addressed by both the deporting and receiving countries even though deportees are shipped back to several other Caribbean countries.
“After watching the movie, it is clear that the deporting countries are dumping their own home grown problems on Jamaica which does not have the means to address the concern in any meaningful way. It takes the brain-drain practices to another level as in ‘we will take your best skilled and return your problems’. This is an economic and political travesty that severely undermines nation building from a Caribbean perspective.
“Sutherland should be applauded for having the courage to shine a light on the brutal ramifications resulting from this deportee policy practiced by these so-called ‘developed counties’, including Canada.”
The film opens tomorrow at the Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas and Morningside cinemas at 10 Dundas St. E. and 785 Milner Ave. respectively and Silver City Brampton theatre, 50 Great Lakes Dr.
The movie opens in Saskatoon, Edmonton and Halifax on March 29 and a screening will be held in T & T on April 2.
Sutherland and Holness wrote the epic CBC prime time series, Guns, which portrays the randomness of gun violence in the city. Their other credits include their breakthrough film, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, which won the Best Canadian First Feature Prize at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival and the short films, My Father’s Hands and AfricVille. They also teamed up with documentary filmmaker, Min Sook Lee, to create She’s the Mayor for Vision TV.
By RON FANFAIR