TIFF 2022: Canadian filmmaker creates authentic immigration story in Jamaica-based 'When Morning Comes'

(Courtesy of TIFF)

Kelly Fyffe-Marshall was part of last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with the short film Black Bodies, and this year, the spectacular Canadian filmmaker is back with her feature film debut, When Morning Comes.

The movie is told from the perspective of Jamal (Djamari Roberts), a young boy who lives in Jamaica. He was recently suspended from school and his mother Neesha (Shaquana Wilson) fears that he'll continue on this path, so she makes the decision to send her rambunctious son to live with her mother in Canada. But Jamal isn't happy about this upcoming change and leaves home, staying with his friend Deshane (Jarden Crooks), and he starts sharing his feelings about the upcoming move with people in his town, including the girl he has a crush on, father figures and other locals.

"It's kind of based off of the memories I've had in Jamaica while growing up," Fyffe-Marshall told Yahoo Canada.

"My immigration story, from England to Canada, I was that age, and so a lot of the internal feelings of the character are based on how I was feeling ... When I was younger, kids were more children, and so that was important for me, to show this real innocence, especially where he grows up. It's in the country, not having access to electronics, and the time period is 2001, so really speaking to what that innocence looks like from a childlike perspective."

Shooting in Jamaica, Fyffe-Marshall really captures the essence of the country, which she highlights is done, in part, by using the natural light on location. The filmmaker also strategically shot the film like the camera isn't in the room — it feels like you'e just part of the scene.

"It was important to show Jamaica outside of the stereotypes, the Jamaica that I knew growing up ... Jamaicans who watch TV, we always see really bad accents and the Jamaicans are portrayed sometimes very stereotypically, so it was important for me to make a film that showed to me what was the most authentic Jamaica," Fyffe-Marshall said.

From left: Iva Golubovic, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Sasha Leigh Henry, Tamar Bird and Jordan Oram attend the
From left: Iva Golubovic, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Sasha Leigh Henry, Tamar Bird and Jordan Oram attend the "When Morning Comes" Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo by Unique Nicole/Getty Images)

Another interesting aspect of the story is the way that Fyffe-Marshall expands authentic portrayals of mothers, specifically by showing Neesha apologize to her son. There is one moment in particular where Jamal gets hurt, that's followed by his mother's apology, followed by her sharing with Jamal that his father wanted them to see Canada.

"We rarely see mothers apologize on television and on movies, and so for me, it was super important that that moment is an apology that a lot of us as children never got, because our parents weren't equipped to have those conversations and to apologize," Fyffe-Marshall said.

"Then I think the moment after is really her opening up and being vulnerable to her son and letting him in to realizing that he is old enough, or mature enough, to really be involved in what she's feeling, and what's going on for her. Therefore, because he's mature enough to have these conversations, she has done a good job raising him."

While Toronto, in particular, has a reputation for being a city that's home to a lot of immigrant families, much of the focus is usually on what immigrants experience when they arrive, and less so on what they left behind.

"We feel like Canada is this utopia, but I think it's important to talk about the very specific moments before, where you're leaving behind all you've ever known," Fyffe-Marshall said. "For me, this was kind of my love letter to sacrifice, to the things that we all do and miss out on for what we think will be a better life, and have better opportunities.

"Immigrants aren't always treated the best, especially refugees, but we don't really think about the sacrifice it's taken for them to get somewhere for them just to have a better life, but also, just to continue to live. I think it's important to have those conversations."