The feature film Home Again, which chronicles the experiences of three young deportees forcibly returned to Jamaica, comes to the big screen with the best of intentions, along with some excellent acting and competent production.
While Canadian director Sudz Sutherland seeks to focus attention on the human attrition caused by insensitive immigration legislation and the fatal lack of any rehabilitation infrastructure to support freshly "dipped" deportees, his film wavers uncomfortably between genres (docudrama, gangsta thriller, music video) as it follows a script which becomes increasingly predictable and possibly over-contrived, in its efforts to achieve narrative unity.
While some critics have compared Home Again with City of God, that classic of Brazilian favela life, others refer to it as "a lively melodrama," and it is this ambiguity which inevitably compromises both its reception and interpretation.
There's no doubt about Sutherland's sincerity in wishing to expose the horrendous human toll wreaked by deportation and the First World offloading more of its problems onto a Third World too busy with its own problems to cope or care.
But sometimes this worthy objective is trivialised by the kind of treatment we're more likely to associate with American TV crime series or dancehall music videos. Popularising social conscience need not necessarily mean using stereotypes drawn from popular culture.
The decision to shoot the movie in Trinidad might account for some degree of overcompensation in providing visual markers and credibility for the supposed Jamaican location, but the dancehall competition and Rasta groundation scenes read more like clich�s than integral plot elements, while the repeated landscape shots of Kingston (at dawn or dusk) are tedious rather than evocative.
The strength of Home Again lies in the human drama we can all empathise with and the acting which carries it.
Tatyana Ali, as the ingenuous drug mule Marva Johnson from Toronto, deported and separated from her children until she can provide Canadian Immigration with evidence of a stable home and financial security, strikes a believable balance between vulnerability and fierce maternal instinct.
Her uneasy relationship with the lecherous Uncle Archie (a brilliant low-key cameo from Jamaican veteran Paul Campbell) symbolises in small the power imbalances–whether between First and Third World, gender or generation, in and outsider, which are the most provocative and satisfying aspects of the film.
Lyriq Bent, as the ab-packed Dunstan Williams, deported from New York after a vague custodial sentence only to be press-ganged into the Kingston drug scene (by Yardie cousin Jamix, whose authentic Jamaican talk deserved subtitles), initially struggles with a macho/metro image until the script liberates him to reveal sensitivity and compassion in his relationship with "girl who wants to escape from the ghetto" Cherry, and his support for fellow deportee Marva.
Stephan James, as Everton St Clair, whose juvenile scrapes with the law in London (unconvincingly) land him in the alleys of Trenchtown, convincingly captures the fecklessness of the spoilt prodigal, suddenly cut adrift from his privileged middle-class nest.
Everton is forced to adapt from playing badboy to surviving among bad men. In one sense he's the sacrificial lamb, not only in terms of what becomes of his character, but in the attempt to reinforce social realism in a finale where narrative strands are being pulled too hard for closure.
If the strong acting is one of the best elements in the movie, at times it compounds some of the inherent problems with scripting and direction.
The role of Jim the Don, played with pathological intensity by Kadeem Wilson, is a case in point. While the role functions to establish the brutality of ghetto gang life, it also threatens to destabilise many of the thematic nuances embedded in the script. Concentrating the action and denouement in the street shoot-out shifts audience response from more subtle concerns than mere survival.
Besides alerting the public and hopefully the implicated Immigration bureaucracies, Home Again challenges an overstressed and underfunded Jamaica. Much of the really interesting subtext in the movie derives from the tensions and resentments between resident Jamaicans and their diasporic cousins.
These are tensions which not only highlight the inequalities of globalisation and the neoliberal world economy but also raise questions about migration, citizenship, identity across borders and fundamental human rights.
Walking the tightrope between didactism and entertainment, Caribbean and World Cinema, Home Again may slip at certain points, although its soca tempo rarely falters. This is a film which will definitely be received quite differently by audiences in Toronto, London, New York, the Caribbean and the rest of the world–which can only be good.
The locations in Trinidad were used because it was thought that they could double for Jamaica and appear authentic when the film was edited. Just as locations in Toronto double for New York.
Tunapuna (about 4 locations)
Long Circular Mall (interior & exterior)
Gordon & Henry Street
Piarco International (old airport)
La Seiva (Maraval)
The Pillars (To Maracas)
Some of the T&T actors with speaking roles. (There were many more with one liners).
Soca Warrior Brent Sancho had a non-speaking part.