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J’can, US experiences inform Immigrant Brothers - Marlon Samuda writes, produces, stars award-winning short film

Published:Tuesday | October 10, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
The homeless illegal immigrant trio of' Immigrant Brothers'.
The homeless illegal immigrant trio of 'Immigrant Brothers'.
Marlon Samuda
The official poster for 'Immigrant Brothers'.
Marlon Samuda

There was a time when Marlon Samuda helped provide meals for homeless people in Cross Roads, St Andrew, and downtown Kingston. Then a Hillel Academy student, Samuda told The Gleaner he formed a non-governmental organisation called Jamaica Community Upliftment Programme (JCUP) which, unfortunately, "lasted only a year or two".

Then, after graduating with honours from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona's Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management programme, then the New York Film Academy, Samuda had another experience with the homeless, which led directly to his short film, Immigrant Brothers.

After winning Best Drama Short Film at the European Cinematography Awards and making the finals of the Sanctuary Cove International Film Festival, the story of a homeless Jamaican, Mexican and Syrian trio, will have its world premiere on Sunday at the Atlantic City Cinefest, New Jersey, US.

While Samuda was returning from the beach in Hollywood, California, with friends, they decided to give leftover sandwiches to some of the area's numerous homeless persons. The interaction was food for thought.

"I always knew I wanted to write a script for a short film. I knew it would be a drama," said the 25-year-old Samuda, who lives in London. "But lo and behold, I am coming from the beach, there is this experience and that spark was created."

Immigrant Brothers, directed by Brazilian Nicholas Cunha, follows the homeless immigrant trio as they struggle to cope with yet an additional setback.

Samuda had his heart set on acting from he was in high school, after being in plays during his time at prep school. He was involved in productions by David Tulloch and Father HoLung and Friends. At 17 years old, he intended to leave Jamaica, but his parents had different ideas, so he ended up at UWI.

It was an experience Samuda does not regret, saying the Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management "is culturally based and made me interested to learn about other people's culture. When I meet persons now, I often ask where are you from before I ask their name. It helps in dealing with people of other cultures," Samuda said of the UWI programme.

He chose the nationalities of the three Immigrant Brothers - related by fate and circumstance, not blood - because of their relevance to the place and theme - there are many illegal Mexican immigrants in California, crises in the Middle East have created many refugees (including Syrians) and many Jamaicans 'run off' in the US.

He found producing hard, unlike selecting most of the cast and crew, as they were largely people he already knew, although he still had the actors read their lines). Shooting took place over three days last November and the film was ready to be seen by March this year.

However, Sunday's screening will be the first time Immigrant Brothers, will be seen by a wider public than persons connected to film festival procedures and Samuda tells The Gleaner, "I am nervous."

He intends to show the short film in Jamaica next year, but has not yet settled on a date.