JICS at the Movies preview: Walking through Brother, from page to screen

By Perry King
November 15, 2022
Brother film web
Brother, adapted from David Chariandy's 2017 novel, takes us into the lives of two brothers, Michael and Francis living in a Scarborough housing complex. Photo courtesy Guy Godfree.

Damon D’Oliveira knows that the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute for Child Study Lab School community will be familiar with Brother – the Toronto-based book written by David Chariandy – and are ready to see that story play out on the big screen.

“I think there's just a sheer pleasure of coming in and watching something that you may have read and seeing it fleshed out,” said D’Oliveira, a producer for the new film Brother, whose daughter attends the JICS Lab School. “Hopefully most people will like that. The length, the choices that we made, but to also present a piece of Canadian cinema that has been critically acclaimed outside of Canada, it's nice to bring something home.”

For D’Oliveira, this is Virgo’s strongest film yet. “It's one for the ages,” said D’Oliveira, who met and began working with director Clement Virgo (a long-time collaborator) in the early 1990s when they attended Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre. “There's something really classic about the sensibility, and how the film is made. And I’m really hoping that audiences will appreciate that.”

On Nov. 20, Brother comes to campus, as part of the JICS at the Movies film screening series. Showing at Innis College Town Hall, the screening will be followed by a Q&A with D’Oliveira, Chariandy and Virgo.

D’Oliveira adds, “I think it'll be a fun night. I think folks that are film fans or book fans will have a great evening out. And it'll be in support of a phenomenal cause. I hope people are excited and I hope people want to come out and see this film that generated so much excitement at this year’s TIFF.”


From the page to the screen

Brother, adapted from Chariandy's intensely beautiful, tightly constructed 2017 novel, takes us into the lives of two brothers, Michael and Francis, who are the sons of Caribbean immigrants living in a Scarborough housing complex. Over the course of the story, surrounded by the sweltering heat and simmering violence of the summer of 1991, escalating tensions set off a series of events that change the course of their lives forever.

Chariandy, who grew up in Scarborough, drew inspiration from his hometown, and sought to replicate the nuances of that life through Michael and Francis’ story.

“I wanted to honour the complex lives of specific Black and visible minority working-class youths growing up Scarborough,” says Chariandy. “I wanted to represent the obstacles they often confront, but also the force and sophistication of their imaginations, and especially their everyday acts of love and care. I also wanted to explore masculinity and kinship, and how these are caught up within broader societal pressures.”

Book-to-film adaptation is usually fraught with challenges but adapting Brother to the screen was the easiest and fastest script Virgo had ever written. The screenplay, says D’Oliveira, “literally poured out of Clement, at a level of writing that is close to what you see on screen in the final version.”

Developed and financed over three years (considered quite fast for an independent film, says D’Oliveira), including through the headwinds of the pandemic, Virgo took inspiration from Brother’s story, literary structure and tone to evoke a fresh visual experience. “[Clement] had a very clear idea and we, most of all, wanted to honour David's work,” he added.

Even then, the crew worked closely with Chariandy to retain some accuracy for the film but also meet Clement’s confident vision.

“As a longstanding admirer of Clement’s work, I felt very comfortable in allowing him the freedom to make the film he wished to make,” said Chariandy, who also felt tremendously honoured by the work of Damon and the whole team. “Clement and Damon also kindly shared the script with me, and they consulted with me on a number of occasions – when changing the mother in the story from Trinidadian to Jamaican, for instance.

“I’m still quite stunned by what they accomplished through all of the planning and direction – the acting, the cinematography, the seamless articulation of the timelines, the settings and soundscapes and music,” said Chariandy. 

He adds, “Clement, Damon, and the entire crew were so respectful of the book. But the film also presents a distinctly accented vision of the story. To be sure, it is a vision that deserves celebration.”


Brother’s message and an opportunity for a JICS audience

After Brother premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, closed the 2022 Calgary International Film Festival, and played in Competition at the 2022 BFI London International Film Festival, the film has some time before a broader theatrical release in 2023. Since its premiere, it has been a critical success, garnering comparisons to Moonlight, the Oscar-winning film from Barry Jenkins.

And until the broader release, screening the story with the JICS audience is an opportunity to celebrate the film and book, but also lend its support to the screening’s fundraising ends.

“I think the tuition support fund, first of all, allows for economic diversity at the school, which is something that is critically important,” says D’Oliveira, who serves on the school’s parent committee. “The ability to support a family that hasn't had the same leg up as other families in the JICS community, it deepens that wealth of community at the school. The focus, including for the parents’ group for BIPOC kids at the JICS Lab School has been a great development in the last year.

“It's great that our community within the school is emerging and finding its voice and I think this film is a great opportunity to open up discussions.”

Author Chariandy echoes D’Oliveira’s sentiment. Brother the film and book cast a critical light on the educational opportunities (or lack thereof) provided to youths of specific class and racial backgrounds,” he says. “So a fundraiser supporting diversity at the JICS Lab School is obviously a good thing, though only part of the broader and more comprehensive reimagining of education so urgently needed.”


Get tickets for Brother

Purchasing a JICS at the Movies ticket directly supports economic diversity through the Diana Rankin/Muncaster Tuition Support Fund at the JICS Lab School. For more information about that fund, and ticket information, please visit this link.

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