Sutherland's new film tells story of Jamaican deportees
Sudz Sutherland's new film Home Again champions the cause of deportees from the Jamaican diaspora, in a harrowing and often violent look at the unintended consequences of existing Western immigration policies.
In Home Again, which had its world premiere at TIFF 2012, three very different people - Dunstan from New York (played by Lyriq Bent), Everton from England (Stephan James) and Marva (Tatyana Ali) from Toronto - find themselves fighting for survival when they each run afoul of the law for minor offenses and find themselves sent back to Jamaica, their country of birth, with little more than an entry document and their own wits to start over a new life.
Deported from the countries they've called home all their lives, and facing a culture that is more foreign than familiar, each of their stories weave in disparate threads as they encounter hostility, predatory distant relatives, and homelessness, not to mention the anger and stigma from native Jamaicans at their deportee status. As the story builds, they cross paths unknowingly with each other several times before their fates are thrown together as events building up throughout the film come to an explosive head.
Home Again questions and challenges ideas of what 'home' is, and lays open the ongoing consequences of policy changes made between 1999 and 2001 in Canada, the United States, and the UK, that mandated deportation for any foreign-born person convicted of a criminal offense. It's a timely film in light of the recently passed Bill C-43 (Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act), but according to Sutherland, the film's director and co-writer alongside his wife and creative partner, Jennifer Holness, the story has been a long time in the making.
Here's my Q&A with Sutherland about his latest film.
Where did the story come from?
I work in partnership with Jen Holness, because she's my co-writer (and my wife, mother of my children). And so we were sitting round the table reading the newspaper and read this article, and it was actually about a friend of hers. She grew up with him, he'd come to Canada as a kid, single digits, he was like six, and for whatever reason when he grew up he ran afoul of the law - you know, fell into the wrong crowd, blah-blah-blah, and then he was deported.
And then ten years later, after he was deported, he was subsequently killed. And so we thought, that's kind of crazy. He's as Canadian as you or I, but then he was deported back to Jamaica, which was an island he really didn't know. He'd never been back since he left. So this was basically his obituary.
So that led us to do some research, and found that a lot of these people who get deported, from the Jamaican diaspora anyways, end up dead, and so the idea is that it could actually be a death sentence. So we thought, that ain't right. So we said, let's go down, ask some questions and do some interviews to see what's actually going on, down on the ground in Jamaica, in Kingston.
Because basically, all the deportees go to Kingston, which is the big city. And so going down, let's just say what's happening in Jamaica, they have basically around 35,000 deportees, and the actual prison population in Jamaica that are incarcerated is only around 5,000. So then you have a situation. You have a situation.
So we wanted to look at that, because a lot of times deportees end up as murder statistics. They end up as part of the homeless population. So this is what we wanted to look at. So we interviewed over 40 deportees (this is back in 2005) and got their stories on video. And we were talking to them, like, how did you end up here, and so we were talking to people from the Jamaican diaspora, which is the US, UK and Canada, and we were talking to mostly guys, and for some of these guys it was like staring into a mirror.
Some of these guys grew up in Scarborough, just like me, and they talk about, you know, Fairview Mall and the Eaton Centre. One guy said he was a Sunshine Boy. And so I was like, these references are completely Canadian. You guys are completely Canadianized - and they are Canadian.
I was like, wow, you're down here and you're completely lost. So we thought that was an interesting thing to talk about, what was "home"? So we began to fashion a script based on these interviews, and over time talked to people here, in the UK, in the US, and also in Jamaica. We felt that we wanted to make something that had more than one character, to tell more than one facet of the story.
With the stories you seem to have covered every aspect. You had Marva who was deported because of the drug involvement, and then someone like Everton - it was just a petty thing that got him deported from England. Bringing it back to Bill C-43, do you feel that it will be things like that (small crimes) that are raising the risk of people being sent to a place that really isn't home for them?
I think a lot of people are being swept up in this large net. Like you talk about Bill C-43, the threshold's been lowered from two years, for some defenses, to six months. This is going to take up a lot more people. And it's going to be interesting to see how people react to this because it's just going to multiply the amount of deportations when you lower the threshold like that. We're in the middle of something that's just going to magnify this misery, because there are people who get left behind, and families get ripped apart. So I think that it's almost like you're catching tuna fish and there are dolphins in the net.
And a lot of people - even the Canadian Bar Association and all that - they're saying that there are problems with this bill. We had no idea this bill that was coming out. It was just a strange accident of timing, and so we just want to raise awareness of the deportation issue - not just Jamaica, but all over the world, because we've got kids on the streets in Saigon and kids on the streets in Mumbai. The deported don't know a lick of Urdu or a lick of Thai, you know, and they're on the streets.
Home Again opens today, March 22, at Cineplex Odeon Yonge and Dundas (10 Dundas Street E)