LOVE, SEX AND EATING THE BONES written and directed by Sudz Sutherland, produced by Jennifer Holness, with Hill Harper, Marlyne N. Afflack, Mark Taylor, Ed Robertson and Kenny Robinson. 100 minutes. A ThinkFilm release. Opens Friday (March 5). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 80. Rating: NNN
Sudz Sutherland is a neighbourhood brother. He grew up in east-end Malvern, where he says his niece and nephew now have to rush inside their school when they hear gunshots. Today we meet at the intersection of rasta and pasta up on St. Clair West. It's close to home, which he shares with his wife and producer Jennifer Holness and their two children. With his tall, thin Ichabod frame and his voluptuous features, Sutherland looks like a scene-shaker but lives like a homebody.
For his feature film debut, he's reclaimed the nickname he had in grade school. "Short form for Sutherland," he explains. "It was Suth, then it became Sudz."
If there's something vaguely suggestive about a man named Sudz, it fits. Sutherland's Love, Sex And Eating The Bones may be the sexiest, funniest movie to come out of Toronto. 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.
Sometimes it amazes even Sutherland. "I still can't believe we made this movie," he says, "about this brother addicted to porn and his celibate girlfriend."
In Bones, Michael (Hill Harper) falls for Jasmine (Marlyne N. Afflack), but because he watches so much video sex, he can't get his antenna up unless one finger's on play.
"In terms of getting it across the transom," Sutherland says, "it was important that it pushed the boundaries of black cinematic representation, especially male representation. It's the first time you've seen a black man with a sexual dysfunction in the history of cinema. Watermelon Man was the closest, and that was due to something else - he was white to start off with."
Sutherland says he was committed to "showing a black man who was a human being, who had flaws and who wasn't a stud. It was very important on a political level."
At the same time, Sutherland and Holness, who co-authored the story, wanted to promote an old-school romance.
Sutherland shakes his head. "I know people who've text messaged breakups. You know: 'ITS OVR.' We've become a little bit too disposable.
"An enduring love is the marrow inside of the bone. And to get to that you've got to break through the hard exterior. If you really want to suck the marrow out of life, you're gonna have to put up with the bones."
Sutherland's interest in film goes back as far as that other brother with the check-me name, Spike Lee.
"Spike is what got me in the game," Sutherland says. "I was doing theatre in high school, and Spike came out with She's Gotta Have It. I was just blown away."
From there he studied film at York University, where he met Holness. They went on to team up on music videos, a documentary called Speakers For The Dead and an award-winning short, My Father's Hands. In between, though, Sutherland donned the black man's white collar.
"I was working as a security guard at the Bay-Adelaide Centre," he recalls. Porn was the water cooler.
"Everybody there, all the guys, this was the thing to pass the time. One of the guys there, it affected every aspect of his relationship with women. Telepersonals were really big at the time - this was before Internet dating - so he'd find girls who were really into porn and they'd hook up."
Another inspiration came from a student documentary Sutherland made about a sex worker.
"She had a client who couldn't function unless he was watching her image," he says. "He'd bring a camera over. So a bunch of disparate things came together in Michael's character."
In many ways Sutherland is a traditionalist, and there's no greater evidence of that than the mom-and-pop movie business he and producer Holness have set up.
"We had to find a rhythm," he admits. "We've found a way to deal and still be lovers, and wife and husband, and now parents."
He recalls they tussled over the movie's big club scene.
"I wanted to have twice as many extras. I wanted to have three times as many lights. She was like, 'I will give you this many lights, and you will have this many extras.' She's always very clear. Her loyalty is to the film, and to delivering a film on budget and on time, properly."
Handling their business is clearly crucial to both Sutherland and Holness. They're hyper-aware of how the industry often views black stories.
"The rules in the distribution business worldwide," Sutherland says, "are don't buy legal, don't buy sports and don't buy black. Those are the unwritten rules.
"The next film we want to do," he laughs, "is about a black basketball player."