As a physics professor, Ian Harnarine explores the building blocks of the universe. But as a filmmaker, he’s gaining acclaim by exploring the often more complex world of family ties and cross-cultural experiences.
Harnarine’s short film, Doubles With Slight Pepper, first garnered attention at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the award for best Canadian short film. Shot in Trinidad over one week with an entirely local cast, the film tells the story of Dhani, a young man facing a terrible family dilemma while struggling to support his mother and make ends meet by selling doubles, a Trinidadian street food.
The film’s buzz was in part enhanced by its pedigree: thanks to a grant from The Spike Lee Production Fund, the famed director’s name was attached to the project, a fact that helped drum up a further $10,000 from a Kickstarter campaign and post-pro funding from the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company.
In 2012, Doubles won a Genie Award for best live action short drama, and later that year, Harnarine won the $10,000 Telefilm Pitch This! prize at TIFF. Following the festival, producers Christina Piovesan (The Whistleblower) and Karina Rotenstein came on board to help develop the film into a feature. This year, the project was selected for the Independent Filmmaker Project’s (IFP) 2013 Independent Film Week Project Forum, a prestigious program designed to foster new talent.
Most mind-blowing for Harnarine has been seeing diverse audiences connect with the story regardless of their background – from the applause in Alabama to the Jersey shore women seeking hugs following a screening.
“There’s this great thing that’s happening in Canadian film right now,” he says of filmmakers increasingly telling global stories, with international casts and shot in foreign territories, like last year’s Oscar contender War Witch, or Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s Inch’Allah. “It’s inspiring to see the industry and people embrace those films.”
The Toronto-born filmmaker – who lives in New York and teaches experimental physics and sound for film at New York University – also has other projects on the horizon, including an adaptation of David Chariandy’s novel Soucouyant and a script he’s co-writing with Spike Lee based on physicist Ron Mallett’s memoir Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality.
CORRECTION: In the print issue of this story, Playback incorrectly stated that $60,000 was raised through a Kickstarter campaign. The correct figure is $10,000.
Check back here as we continue to unveil this year’s 10 to Watch over the next several days.