The second installment of our Filmmakers in Focus series looks at David “Sudz” Sutherland, a Canadian filmmaker of Jamaican heritage. Sudz’s first feature, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones (2003) won the prize for best debut feature at the Toronto International Film Festival. He worked extensively in television after that, and is now making his second feature, Home Again, the story of three Jamaican deportees. The film recently wrapped up principal photography in Trinidad. One day during shooting he sat down with the ttff on his lunch break and—while eating a roti—answered a few questions.
trinidad+tobago film festival: You were born and raised in Canada, but you’re of immigrant parents?
Sudz Sutherland:Yeah, my parents came from Jamaica. They met in England in the ‘60s and then came to Canada thereafter, and I was born in Canada after they arrived.
ttff: Home Again, then, has personal resonance for you as a child of the Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora. How did you decide to make this film?
SS: Myself and my partner Jennifer Holness—my co-writer, and she’s also producer on the film—everybody we know has a story of a cousin or brother or sister who’s been deported. And it’s a very common occurrence, being from a Caribbean background. And so we thought we should tell this story. If we don’t tell it, it’s not going to go down in history and nobody’s going to know about the story of deportation. So many of our stories are just lost, and we didn’t want that to happen.
This is a fictional feature, so it’s an exciting, dramatic piece, that looks at an issue that affects the Caribbean on another level. The deportees coming back, people say “Oh they’re mashing up the place” and that’s what the argument here in Trinidad is, and what the argument is in Jamaica as well. So we wanted to look at that also in terms of what are options you have as a deportee. How can you reintegrate yourself into society, and sometimes a society that you don’t know, especially if you emigrated as a child.
ttff: You decided you would tell the story through several different characters. Could you talk a little bit about those characters and their individual stories, and how they link together? I’m assuming their stories are all interconnected.
SS: Oh yeah, they’re all interconnected, because you’re going to the same places, seeing the same things, because you’re kind of on the fringes of society. Our lead character is Marva, played by Tatyana Ali, who has Trinidadian roots—her father’s from San Fernando—and was born in Brooklyn. Marva is deported for being a drug mule. There was one particular woman who we based our research on who was in fact deported. Also she didn’t get a chance to be with her children because her children were in foster care. So we wanted to tell that woman’s story. And Tatyana Ali did a great job playing that part, and now she’s back in America on a Penny Marshall movie.
In terms of the other characters we’ve got Lyric Bent, from the Saw movies, and he’s playing a character called Dunstan, who was also in the drug trade but he was a dealer. He’s also been a gangbanger and was in prison and he’s been released and deported. He lives in a garrison community but he needs permission from the don to live there. So he meets the don, who’s played by Kadeem Wilson, a Jamaican actor, who was in Ghett’a Life [a ttff/11 selection] and many other films, he meets the don, who regards him with suspicion.
And then there’s Everton, played by Stefan James, who is on set today, a Toronto actor who we see go through the cycle of drug addiction, which many deportees find themselves in. Not fitting in you seek solace, and many people find solace at the end of a crack pipe. So we wanted to tell that story. And they all intersect, and they all overlap each other’s lives in some way.
ttff: The film is set largely in Jamaica, but you’re shooting in Trinidad. How did that come to be, and how have you found it substituting Trinidad for Jamaica? What logistical challenges have you encountered?
SS: I think it came to be because we were trying to find a suitable location that would double for Jamaica. Some of the areas we’re dealing with in terms of Jamaica, Trinidad is a perfect double for. Logistically, there’s a [35% tax] rebate here, a tax incentive for filming. So we said, OK, we’ll do a location scout to see if it could actually double for Jamaica. And we found that it could—it could double for a lot of places, it could double for Miami, Cuba, parts of Africa, even. There’s a lot of possibility here.
As to logistical challenges, we’re actually filming in Carnival, which is craaazy. But we had some scheduling issues with actors so this how we had to film. That in and of itself is a challenge, because we’re in competition for gear and personnel.
ttff: And how have you found working with the local cast and crew?
SS: We’ve had a fantastic experience with the actors. I was quite impressed with the Trinidadian talent pools. In some ways they’re deeper than Toronto’s talent pools—not in all categories obviously, but in some categories they are. I’ve had actual choice. And so I’ve been fairly happy.
ttff: Who are some of the local actors you’ve been working with?
SS: Terri-Leigh Bovell, Michael Cherrie, Conrad Parris, Leslie-Ann Levine, Pauline Mark. Quite a few. They just did a standout job. Some really good performances.
ttff: Let’s switch gears and look at the bigger picture, when it comes to attracting international film productions to shoot in T&T and the Caribbean in general. What’s your opinion on this? It’s obviously a good thing, in terms of bringing in revenue, but in terms of helping local film industry professionals hone their craft, what do you think they can learn?
SS: They’ll learn a hell of a lot. I think that the reason why the Toronto crews are so good is because Hollywood started coming north to Toronto, thirty, thirty-five years ago. And if that didn’t happen, the crew that I brought from Toronto wouldn’t be as good. Even somebody who’s only been in the game five years in Toronto is really quite good.
I’ve got some of the best crew members in the country, people who I respect and admire, and they wanted to come down, obviously because it’s slow in Canada in the winter, but also because they wanted to work on this project. And I know that a lot of our local crew members are learning a lot from them, because they were trained by some of the best in the business, in the world. I don’t know if you can put a price on that, because those experiences spin off. There’s a way that the Hollywood system, the discipline, teaches you, in terms of actually achieving your [work] day and making [the film] happen.
ttff: Do you also think it’s important to try and get diasporic filmmakers to come and work in the Caribbean?
SS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s all about fostering relationships with diasporic filmmakers. I think that people like myself, Spike [Lee], Clement Virgo [Poor Boy’s Game, ttff/08], Charles Officer [Nurse.Fighter.Boy, ttff/10], there’s a number of filmmakers in the diaspora, not just here, but in the UK as well, we should all be thinking about shooting in the Caribbean. And we should be told, If you bring a budget of three or four million [Canadian] dollars, this is what it can get you here. For the most part we don’t even know where to start, and I think the T&T Film Company can do that, make those local introductions and say, well, here’s our stunt personnel. We had to come and find stuntmen. Where are they going to come from? So we had to do all that work. This is a pioneering effort and we put a lot of time and effort into putting some infrastructure in.
ttff: Finally, the shoot wraps up next week, are you staying for Carnival?
SS: Unfortunately, no. I gotta go to Jamaica and film something there for this film. Then I have to film in Toronto as well. We don’t stop this roadshow until March.
Home Again is expected to be ready for release in August.
Photo: Sudz Sutherland (in hat) with some of the cast and crew on the set of Home Again