Now screening at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Home Again follows the loosely intersecting stories of three young people deported “home” to Jamaica after having spent most of their lives growing up in other countries. Directed and produced by the husband-and-wife team of Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness, the well-done action drama highlights the devastating outcomes of legislation in the U.S., U.K. and Canada that made it easier to deport foreign-born people for minor crimes, often separating them from the only home and family they know.
Marva (Tatyana Ali) is a young widow who was duped by a boyfriend into smuggling illegal goods - an act that gets her tossed out of Toronto and separated from her two small children. Dunston (Lyriq Bent) is an ex-convict expelled from New York who aims to lay low and quickly return to the States, but instead ends up working for a ruthless Trenchtown drug kingpin. Then there’s Everton (Stephan James), a spoiled Brit who expects that his weed smoking and joyriding will earn him a slap on the wrist, but they instead get him ousted from the country and tumbling down a path to more despair. All of the three have virtually no connection to Jamaica after having left as infants, and they all find it to be a brutal and unforgiving place when they return.
Through quick-paced action shuttling back and forth between its three leads, the film gives a crash course in the challenges of any foreign-born person who finds himself – justly or unjustly - on the wrong side of the law. Trying to fight the legal system from overseas, searching for work as a perceived convict, and struggling to stay safe amid rampant street violence are just a few of the snares the characters face.
Playful performances from James and Richard Chevolleau as Dunston’s street-wise cousin lighten up what could otherwise be a gloomy narrative, as do interwoven love stories with feisty females Fefe Dobson and Pauline Mark. Veteran actress CCH Pounder is sympathetic as Everton’s worried mum, and Bent gives a subtle, charming performance as the guy who makes the wrong choices for all the right reasons.
Also a treat is the uncommon blend of American, Canadian and British characters on the island, which makes for an interesting cultural mix as we soak in lingo from all four cultures (via artful subtitles) along with tidbits of Rastafari culture, dancehall, and reggae through the course of the characters’ journeys.
The film - Sutherland’s sophomore effort after 2003’s Love, Sex and Eating the Bones - is packaged and polished in a way that betrays his TV background (he’s spent much of the past decade directing TV movies and series). But Home Again is not without heart, and achieves what many “issue films” try and fail to do – make passionate advocates out of audiences who just came to be entertained.
Home Again screens at the Pan African Film Festival again tonight, Feb. 17 (find details HERE), and is headed to Canadian theaters in March.