By RON FANFAIR
Jennifer Holness and O’Neil Grant, who both came to Canada from Jamaica at a young age, first met in Grade One and they were 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 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 and 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 his siblings.
“When O’Neil was deported, I was shocked,” said Holness, who along with her husband Sudz Sutherland run a successful film and television production company. “That sort of inspired me and Sudz to dig deeper into this because we couldn’t understand how a young man could be acquitted and yet deported.”
Grant was murdered in 2007 while waiting for a bus in West Kingston.
His predicament and subsequent demise partly inspired the filmmakers to produce Home Again, which is being screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It’s a dramatic feature film about three adults deported to the land of their birth after spending significant time in foreign countries.
“We started by doing some general research into the general issue of immigration deportation and discovered that in the late 1990s, Canada, the United States and England had all made changes in their immigration policies that would allow for easier deportation of non-citizens,” recounted Sutherland, a former Share photographer who studied film at York University. “It’s a very complex issue and not one that solely pertains to the Black and Caribbean communities, but it seems like the Caribbean community was particularly affected by it…We hope this film will raise awareness and influence individuals born outside Canada to secure Canadian citizenship once they become eligible.”
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 feature film, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, which won the Best Canadian First Feature prize at TIFF in 2003 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.
The recipients of the Caribbean Tales 2010 Cultural Entrepreneurs of the Year award, Sutherland and Holness acknowledged that Home Again has been their most challenging project to date.
“There were so many variables,” said Sutherland, who directed episodes of “Da Kink in My Hair”, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”, “Wild Roses” and the TV movie, Doomstown. “We couldn’t get the look of a Caribbean island here to make this movie.”
The feature film was shot in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and Toronto.
Jamaican was initially targeted for the principal photography but due to several stumbling blocks, including the lack of government support, the film 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.
“We were only able to do exterior shots in Jamaica because we just couldn’t get the incentives we were looking for to make the project happen even though the Jamaican Film Commission was very supportive,” said Sutherland. “On the other hand, Trinidad provided us with the tax incentives.”
Sutherland and Holness spent three months in the twin-island republic between December 2011 and the end of the Carnival season in February. They took their three daughters and enrolled them in a Catholic school.
“It was great for the kids to be exposed to a Caribbean environment,” said Holness. “People don’t quite understand what it’s like to grow up in an environment where every image of success looks like you. We are happy that we were able to deliver that experience. When they came back, we could sense they were more confident, calm, fulfilled and happy.”
The 101-minute feature film, which features Ajax-based rapper/actor Stephan James who portrayed Julian on Degrassi; Canadian singer/songwriter, Felicia “Fefe” Dobson; and American actress and R & B singer, Tatyana Ali; will be screened tomorrow (September 14) at 5 p.m. at Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas.