How would you feel if you had lived almost all your life in Canada, but were deported to a foreign country where you faced employment barriers, homelessness, starvation, rape, and even death?
It’s a prospect that hit too close to home for filmmaker Sudz Sutherland and his wife, producer-screenwriter Jennifer Holness. On the line from Toronto, Sutherland explains that Holness discovered that a childhood friend, whose early life paralleled her own—of coming to Canada as a young child, reuniting with a mother, and growing up here—had been killed after being deported to Jamaica. He had gotten involved in petty crime, which escalated until he was deported. He had just begun to turn his life around after 10 years in Jamaica when he was murdered.
“That was the impetus for the story,” Sutherland says of his dramatic feature Home Again, which opens on Friday (March 22).
Sutherland, who directed the TV miniseries Guns and the feature film Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones, says they first approached the National Film Board of Canada to make a documentary, but their proposal was declined. The NFB later supported them to do research in Jamaica for a film. The couple found 40 deportees to interview in Kingston and Ocho Rios (where Sutherland’s parents are from; Sutherland was born in Canada), through a drug-rehabilitation program.
Listening to their stories was “incredibly hard”, Sutherland says.
“One guy, it was like I was staring in a mirror.…He grew up where I grew up, in Scarborough. And all his references were Canadian, like Eaton Centre and the Ex [Canadian National Exhibition]…he was a Sunshine Boy [a Toronto tabloid beefcake shot]—all these kinds of things.…What we looked at was people who had emigrated as children…to their adoptive countries, but for one reason or another their parents never got them citizenship, so when they did run afoul of the law, instead of a slap on the wrist, now it’s exile…and homelessness.”
Home Again follows three characters who are deportees in Jamaica: Marva (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Tatyana Ali), caught as an unwitting drug mule for an ex-boyfriend, is wrenched from her two Canadian-born children and faces an uncertain life with resentful relatives. The 21-year-old Everton (Stephan James), deported from Britain for possession of a few joints, finds his private-school education hasn’t prepared him for street life. Meanwhile, New York City drug dealer Dunston (Rookie Blue’s Lyriq Bent) gets quickly drawn into Kingston’s vicious underworld.
Sutherland wanted to expose what lies behind the façade of a tourist’s experience of Jamaica at an all-inclusive resort. “All the things we all take for granted—talking to a deportee puts all that stuff into perspective,” he says.
The film’s release follows recent debates over the controversial Bill C-43. The Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act would reduce the number of appeals that refugees, permanent residents, and visitors can make for crimes with punishments of six months or more in jail. Critics, including MP Elizabeth May, have raised concerns about the powers that it would give the immigration minister. (A petition against the bill is available at the Home Again website: www.homeagainfilm.com/.)
Ultimately, Sutherland wants to give voice to Jamaica’s deportee population, which now numbers around 34,000, seven times the country’s prison population.
“They wanted to talk about this. They want to get this issue out there. They wanted to be heard,” he says. “We’re trying to get this story right.”