Doubles wins triple at Canadian Film Fest

Doubles cast members David Fraser (Doug), left, Rashaana Cumberbatch (Anita), Leela Sitahal (Sumintra), Errol Sitahal (Ragbir), and director Ian Harnarine attend opening night of the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto, Canada. - Photo courtesy Brian de Rivera Simon
Doubles cast members David Fraser (Doug), left, Rashaana Cumberbatch (Anita), Leela Sitahal (Sumintra), Errol Sitahal (Ragbir), and director Ian Harnarine attend opening night of the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto, Canada. - Photo courtesy Brian de Rivera Simon

TT-CANADIAN feature film Doubles has won three awards at the Canadian Film Fest, including a Best Supporting Actor award for veteran TT-born actor Errol Sitahal. The awards were announced at the festival held last month in Toronto.

Sitahal spoke with Newsday about his win during a WhatsApp audio call and said he was excited by the news.

“It is a reputable institution, the Canadian Film Fest, and to get an award from them is pretty much an honour. It means to me I am regarded by the film fraternity as a top actor in the country. Pity I am not regarded the same way in Trinidad, but still.”

A long-time veteran of the stage and screen, Sitahal has appeared in several local theatre productions, Caribbean films, Hollywood films including, The Little Princess, Tommy Boy and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and Canadian television series 11 Cameras and How to Be Indie.

In Doubles, Sitahal plays Ragbir, a Trinidadian immigrant living in Toronto who is visited by his son Dhani (played by local actor and attorney Sanjiv Boodhu), a frustrated Trini doubles vendor who comes to Canada seeking financial gain from his estranged father. The trip becomes complicated when he learns that his father has a serious illness.

Actors Sanjiv Boodhu, foreground, and Errol Sitahal in a scene from Doubles. -

Both Boodhu and Sitahal reprised their roles from Ian Harnarine’s 2011 short Doubles With Slight Pepper which the new film is based on, and which won many accolades including the Best Canadian Short Film at the Toronto International Film Festival and also a Genie Award.

In the new film Sitahal’s real-life wife Leela plays his estranged wife Sumintra. On his award-winning role, he said it was possible in the past he had roles equal to what he played in Doubles but they were not given any kind of attention including in Trinidad.

“I could have gotten (a similar award) a long time ago. But it was a proper part a nice part, and I related to it easily. It was a relaxed and comfortable performance.”

Sitahal said his role would have been special to the Canadian Film Fest as it was not the usual character seen in films, including those from Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.

“The area that is gradually being explored is the existence of diaspora. It is a very confusing area. People talk about multiculturalism, talk glibly about it. It is very confusing, very painful, and full of suffering and deep-down disturbances. People moved from one culture to another, specifically to (Canada).”

He said there are a lot of culturally displaced people in Canada, and it was important to recognize and engage differences without losing cultural distinctiveness. He added there are similar differences within Caribbean societies and, though there has been a longer time to engage with them, these issues were not being worked out.

Sitahal expressed hope his role and the award will lead to more films and discussions about the displaced immigrant experience and the disturbances they suffer. “I think cinema is a place to articulate these differences.”

Doubles writer and director Ian Harnarine. -

Doubles writer and director Ian Harnarine spoke to Newsday about Sitahal’s win in a Zoom interview and said he was very happy that he was being recognized with this special jury award.

“Everyone who sees this film is immediately moved by Errol’s performance. And I knew when we were filming it, we were getting something very special out of the actors but especially Errol.”

Harnarine said he worked with Sitahal on two films and described the level of his talent as “unmatched.”

“The Trinidadian audience would know Errol Sitahal as the phenomenal actor who has been doing countless stage plays and movies in Trinidad, but I don’t think he’s received the recognition formally that he deserves. I believe he’s a national treasure. And I’m glad he’s getting the recognition for the amount of talent that he has and how much he puts into it.”

He said the team was pleased with the recognition that the awards represented. Together with the award for Sitahal, Doubles also won the Reel Canadian Indie Award and People’s Pick for Best Flick. Harnarine explained the Indie Award was a jury award and goes to the movie that encapsulates the spirit of independent film.

“It’s not a big studio movie. What we didn’t have in money in terms of budget, we made up for it in terms of heart and in terms of grit and of people really working hard to make the movie. And so, to be recognized for that, it means a lot.”

On the People’s Pick award, Harnarine said this award is voted on by the audience. He recalled Doubles had a soldout audience in Toronto which was a dream come true for him.

“The audience really loved the movie. There were people who were crying throughout their experience and that meant a lot. So you’re connecting with the audience, which is what we’re trying to do ultimately with the film. Trying to move people emotionally.”

Harnarine, a Canadian filmmaker born to Trinidadian parents, recalled the audience in Toronto included many people from Trinidad and the Caribbean diaspora but also “regular Canadian people” from Ontario’s capital city.

“Toronto is a really multicultural place. So, to tap into that audience, there’s something in there that they would know. Even if they didn’t know about doubles or anything like that, by the end of the movie they felt something about this universal truth that I think the movie is trying to get at. And if they felt something by that, then I feel that we’ve done our job.”

Doubles producer Mark Sirju, left, and director Ian Harnarine at the opening night of the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto, Canada. - Photo courtesy Brian de Rivera Simon

He said he was hoping everyone could appreciate the film whether they were aware of the culture presented in the film or not. “I’m hoping they can tap into the humanity that is involved.”

He said the film was shot during very cold conditions and they were always pressed for time and money.

“But the one thing that always kept me going was that we would screen this film for our people. We’d screen this movie in Toronto. We’d screen this movie for a packed house.”

He said that having this dream come to fruition made for a very special night.

The three awards are Harnarine’s first at the annual festival held by the Canadian Film Fest, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to celebrate the art of cinematic storytelling by exclusively showcasing Canadian films. Harnarine explained the Canadian Film Fest was an early step in their film festival run and the awards immediately raised the stature of the film.

“We can say we’re a multiaward- winning film now with an award-winning performance by a standout actor. And hopefully, that will raise awareness for the film and get more people interested in it.”

Harnarine said he was looking forward to having a run in Trinidad after the film successfully opened the TT Film Festival 2023 back in September.

“I am hoping we can work with FILMCO to get a theatrical release of the film in Trinidad. And that would mean a lot to me. And I’m hoping the local audience would come out and support what I think is a really high-quality vision of themselves.”

On his other projects, Harnarine announced he was adapting the 2007 historical fiction novel Soucouyant by David Chariandy, a Canadian writer born to Trinidadian immigrant parents.


"Doubles wins triple at Canadian Film Fest"

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