Jennifer Holness

Jennifer Holness, producer, screenwriter, director (born 1969 in Montego Bay, Jamaica). Jennifer Holness is the president and co-founder of Hungry Eyes Film & Television, which specializes in telling stories that engage with social issues and representations of Black Canadians. Her credits as producer include the award-winning Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones (2003), Home Again (2012), the Gemini Award-winning miniseries Guns (2009) and the award-winning feature documentary Stateless (2020).

Jennifer Holness, producer, screenwriter, director (born 1969 in Montego Bay, Jamaica). Jennifer Holness is the president and co-founder of Hungry Eyes Film & Television, which specializes in telling stories that engage with social issues and representations of Black Canadians. Her credits as producer include the award-winning Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones (2003), Home Again (2012), the Gemini Award-winning miniseries Guns (2009) and the award-winning feature documentary Stateless (2020).


Jennifer Holness
Jennifer Holness, producer, screenwriter, director.
Photo by Rafy www.rafyphotography.com, courtesy of Jennifer Holness

Early Years

Jennifer Holness left Jamaica at an early age and moved to Toronto with her single mother. (See also Caribbean Canadians.) Holness grew up in a housing project in the Lawrence and Bathurst area of Toronto; this shaped the gritty but affectionate view of the city often depicted in her work. She studied political science at York University, where she met her filmmaking partner David “Sudz” Sutherland (the two later married and have three daughters). Holness and Sutherland began working together on projects such as music videos and short films, including the Gemini Award-nominated short, My Father’s Hands (2000).

Film and Television Work

Holness co-directed the NFB documentary Speakers for the Dead (2000) with Sutherland. The film, which examines a struggle to restore an African Canadian cemetery in Priceville, Ontario, displayed Holness’s commitment to challenging sanitized images of Canada. “I was raised in Canada, and I was acutely aware that my culture was not part of the historic context; that Black history was just not being taught,” she said in an interview during the film’s release. She has also asserted that “we can’t be smug about Canada's place in history when it comes to racism.” (See Racism; Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada.)

Her next production — and major breakthrough — was Sutherland’s feature directorial debut, Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones (2003). Starring Hill Harper as a photographer/security guard with a porn addiction, the fun and sexy film was a breakout hit at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF); its premiere sold out in half an hour thanks to early buzz. “Love, Sex And Eating the Bones may be the sexiest, funniest movie to come out of Toronto,” wrote NOW magazine’s Cameron Bailey. “True, there aren't a lot of auteurs lining up to take that title, but Bones is still a welcome hot breath in a pretty chilly film culture.” The film won the award for Best Canadian First Feature at TIFF; it was also named one of the Top 10 Canadian films of 2003 in a poll conducted by TIFF. It went on to earn three Genie Award nominations, including a Best Motion Picture nod for Holness.

Following Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones, Holness produced and co-wrote the two-part CBC miniseries Guns (2009), starring Colm Feore, Elisha Cuthbert and Clé Bennett. The miniseries dramatizes gun violence in Toronto and explores the consequences of gun trafficking and street crime from multiple perspectives. Guns won five Gemini Awards, including a best writing trophy for Holness and Sutherland.

Holness then produced Min Sook Lee’s documentary Badge of Pride (2010). It examines the challenges faced by gay police officers. She followed this with Catherine Annau’s award-winning documentary Brick by Brick: The Story of the Evergreen Brickworks (2010); as well as the Vision TV sitcom She’s the Mayor (2011), which featured appearances by former prime minister Kim Campbell and future prime minister Justin Trudeau.


Holness’s biggest film production to date was the 2012 feature film Home Again, which she produced and co-wrote with Sutherland. Home Again combines elements of a family film, crime drama and social message movie to tell the story of Canadian deportees to Jamaica. Holness drew inspiration from the experience of a high school classmate who was deported from Canada and was subsequently killed in Kingston, Jamaica. An ambitious, $4-million collaboration with producer Don Carmody and the NFB’s Anita Lee, Home Again challenged Canada’s impending Bill C-43; it sought to deport non-Canadian citizens convicted of criminal offenses. Home Again received largely positive reviews; Indiewire said the film “achieves what many ‘issue films’ try and fail to do — make passionate advocates out of audiences who just came to be entertained.”

Following Home Again, Holness co-wrote and produced the TV crime drama Shoot the Messenger (2016). The CBC series follows a young journalist who gets embroiled with gangs, politicians and corporate power brokers while covering her first murder case. It was loosely inspired by the controversies surrounding former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and allegations of his drug use. Holness’s next project was Michèle Stephenson’s feature documentary Stateless, which tells the stories of some of the 200,000 people in the Dominican Republic whose citizenship was revoked on the grounds that their parents were born in Haiti. The film was named best Canadian feature documentary at the 2020 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival. Her feature documentary directing debut, Subjects of Desire, was slated to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2021. It examines the appropriation of black beauty features in mainstream American culture.

Honours

In February 2021, the Canadian Media Producers Association recognized Holness’s contributions to Canadian film and television with the $10,000 Established Producer Award.

See also Black Women in the Arts.


Awards

  • Best Documentary Film (Speakers for the Dead), Black Film and Video Network’s Reel Black Award (2000)
  • HBO Award for Best Short Film (My Father’s Hands), Acapulco International Black Film Festival (2000)
  • Best Drama (My Father’s Hands), Yorkton Film Festival, Golden Sheaf Award (2000)
  • Best Director (My Father’s Hands), Yorkton Film Festival, Golden Sheaf Award (2000)
  • Prix Chantal Lapaire (Speakers for the Dead), Vues D’Afrique Film Festival (2001)
  • Best Canadian First Feature Film (Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones), Toronto International Film Festival (2003)
  • Audience Award, Best Feature Film (Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones), American Black Film Festival (2004)
  • Best Feature (Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones), Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival (2004)
  • Audience Award (Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones), Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival (2004)
  • Best Canadian Feature (Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones), Victoria Independent Film + Video Festival (2004)
  • Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Miniseries (Guns), Gemini Awards (2010)
  • Excellence in Media – Video (Brick by Brick: The Story of the Evergreen Brickworks), Heritage Toronto Awards (2011)
  • Audience Award (Home Again), Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival (2013)
  • Best Documentary Feature (Stateless), Blackstar Film Festival (2020)
  • Best Canadian Feature Documentary (Stateless), Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival (2020)
  • Established Producer Award, Canadian Media Producers Association Indiescreen Awards (2021)