Big loss - Film about Jamaica enjoys Trinidadian berth
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:A film depicting Jamaican deportees debuts in Trinidad to a sold-out audience, takes the number one spot in Canadian theatres for two weeks and is nominated for the Pan African BAFTA award, months after being released.
Yet the same film, Home Again, like the deportees who are ostracised and treated like lepers on their return to their place of origin, struggled to find a home in Jamaica.
Shot in Trinidad and Tobago, because Jamaica dragged its feet in negotiating a rebate for the producers, the twin-island republic is celebrating not only the success of the C$1.2 million spent by the film-makers in the country, but the fact that several communities passed the Jamaican acid test, while many captured the local lingua with ease.
"Over 1,000 extras were employed, plus the actors and crew," says Trinidad and Tobago award-winning producer Lisa Wickham, CEO of Imagine Media International Ltd, who hosted The Gleaner in Trinidad two weeks ago at MovieTown, where the film is being shown.
Home Again stars actress and recording artiste Tatyana Ali (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Mother and Child, Love That Girl!), Lyriq Bent (Rookie Blue, Guns, SAW series), and newcomer Stephan James (Clue, Degrassi: The Next Generation).
Joining them in bringing this raw and uncompromising script to life are Richard Chevolleau (Guns, The Planet of Junior Brown), multi-Emmy nominated and Satellite Award winner C.C.H. Pounder (The Shield, Bagdad Cafe, Warehouse 13, Avatar), and international recording star Fefe Dobson (2004 Muchmusic Video Award, People's Choice Favourite Canadian Artiste).
The Jamaicans who stand out in the film are Ghett'A Life's Kadeem Wilson, Lunatic's Paul Campbell and newcomer Brian Brown, a renowned Montegonian.
Produced, directed and co-written by Jamaica-born, Canadian film-maker Jennifer Holness and her husband Sudz Sutherland, Home Again tells the story of three young people deported 'home' to Jamaica after being raised abroad since infancy.
Once landed in Kingston and without a compass of any kind, each of the characters embarks on a journey that pushes their endurance and forces them to discover who they truly are.
On the most fundamental level, Home Again asks the question, "How would you survive?"
The award-winning Hungry Eyes Film & Television producer, Jennifer Holness (Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones) gives the best response to that question.
"Deportees are akin to an 'untouchable' class. They are universally despised and are blamed for the violence on the island. Without any resettlement or reintegration programmes, these people are being set up to fail."
She states that many of these deportees have little connection to the island, and for that and other reasons - a crime that used to get you a few months in jail, can now effectively be a death sentence.
Holness was inspired to do the film after a friend of hers was deported and subsequently murdered in Jamaica.
"He was Canadian, he knew nothing about Jamaica, having left the island at age three," she argued.
Her inspiration led her to commencing the project, which saw her interviewing more than 40 deportees in 2005. According to statistics, some 34,000 Jamaicans were deported.
"Before we went to Jamaica we were alerted that there was massive deportation. When we interviewed them, we realised a lot of them didn't even know they were eligible for deportation," was how Holness described the situation.
"We thought this was kind of crazy, they don't have the knowledge of how to live there, and if they don't have family or friends they are in trouble."
Holness said the intention was to film the non-touristy film in Jamaica, which was definitely not a How Stella Got her Groove Back or Cocktails with Tom Cruise.
"We went through two film commissioners, including the current one, Kim Marie Spence.
"It was impossible for us not to think we could film in Jamaica," she stated, adding that up to 2009, while at the Canadian Film Festival in Toronto, she met with one film representative from JAMPRO.
"We had two different meetings at the Toronto Film Festival, we said this is what we need, in order to do this we need financing. We were looking for tax credit, we asked for help with flights and accommodation, when all failed," said Holness.
This type of request is normal in the film industry. The Canadians attracted Hollywood by offering tax credits.
Responding to questions posed by The Gleaner, the island's film commissioner, Kim Marie Spence, said her predecessor has advocated an incentive, and so has she since she took office.
"The reality is that rebates are at the floor in the film industry. It's almost a given that you are going to be given rebates, but we don't do that in Jamaica."
She pointed out that this was a project that she wanted the country to get, but it's very difficult to compete with places like Trinidad which is offering 35 per cent, Puerto Rico 40 per cent, and Dominican Republic 25 per cent.
Admitting that this had affected the country adversely, she stated Jamaica did not have the negotiating power that other similar industries had.
Not totally disheartened, the film commissioner said it was not unusual for persons to shoot where it's easiest to shoot, meaning incentives or no incentive, Jamaica may be able to attract film-makers.
The Trinidadians took Home Again and staged Trench Town, Greenwich Farm and even the resort town of Ocho Rios, satisfying the need of the film-makers.
"We intended to spend over C$1 million in employing Jamaicans, food services and locations," Sudz Sutherland injected.
Sutherland's parents are Jamaicans, so he understood, just like his wife did, the importance of filming in Jamaica.
"We needed Jamaican actors to make this work," he said, adding that any film-maker that goes abroad and spends that kind of money, gets some type of incentive.
Had it been left up to the husband-and-wife team, maybe they would have waited five more years for Jamaica to smell the coffee, but their investors are not sentimentalists.
"Our investors asked, if Jamaica can't do it, why are you shooting there?" said Sutherland.
Having exhausted all possible avenues after four years they became despondent. In January 2011, every single dollar that was in film was pulled, and because of the economic turmoil worldwide a decision had to be taken.
With the backing of Canada's biggest producer, Don Carmody of Resident Evil and Chicago, who saw the script and loved it, Holness said they were on their way.
"We again went back to JAMPRO, and offered the film commissioner the opportunity to help with accommodations and flights only."
The film commissioner promised she would get a meeting with the minister. "In June 2011, we called again for another meeting with the Minister, but he wasn't available."
Jamaica's loss, became Trinidad's gain, and here appeared lifesaver, Lisa Wickham.
"Wickham was qualified for the job. We were impressed with her portfolio, saw the things she did on YouTube, etc., but we set up interviews with four line producers, even though we weren't convinced we would have shot the film in Trinidad," said Holness.
The husband-and-wife team said it was a simple thing.
"We spent C$1.2 million in Trinidad and got back 35 per cent, because Trinidad wanted the production."
Overall, the production cost C$4 million.
Admitting that the film does not necessarily place Jamaica in a positive light, Holness said the message was to bring awareness.
"What they have done with this film is to show that this cannot continue to be swept under the rug," said Lisa Wickham.
Holness and Sutherland say what is happening to deportees is like torture,
"As compassionate human beings, we have to tell stories that matter."
Their production company is called Hungry Eyes, noting that film has always been for people who are hungry for stories.
Home Again is the biggest production that was ever done in Trinidad.
"It was very challenging, because they didn't have trucks and we had to ship all the gear that was used in the movie. The result of which was, I basically placed my fee back into the movie. I felt that this story needed to be told, I thought it was bigger than us, after witnessing some of the tragedies that we saw," revealed Holness.
She blames international governments for the problems now faced by these people.
"If you don't have a way to reorient, the bigger crime is what the international governments are doing," she argues, adding that, for example, when a Jamaican succeeds in Canada, they say he is Canadian. "When Donovan Bailey won gold he was Canadian.
"Rather than deal with the social problems that exist, that have been created in these communities (foreign), they are shipping back problems."
Holness said they fought hard to get the movie made, as very few Canadians care about this issue.
"I believe very strongly we are creating a two-tier system, the immigration population that makes a mistake and pay for it in an extreme way; and the native Canadians who get a second chance."
She defies anyone reading this article to tell her that a child that comes to a country at age seven, five or three, is not a product of the community that he/she is raised in.
Response to the film in Trinidad has been phenomenal. There are plans to take the film to Jamaica.
While losing out on having the film shot in Jamaica, Spence says the Jamaican film industry is still competitive in terms of attracting other countries to its shores.
"We got America's Top Model, Tropical Island. We have moved into other markets as well to get the business. There are less films and more television, consequently, we have moved our strategy in that direction."