New school urban family values

By David Kenney

Clement Virgo is on a Bob Marley kick today. Holed up in his home working on his next script, the Toronto screenwriter/director is using the late great reggae singer/activist for inspiration. His easy-delivery, baritone voice betrays his contemplative mood.

"Bob is good for the spirit, good for the soul," says Virgo over the phone.
Virgo is full of spirit and soul. Over the last couple of years, the Jamaican-born filmmaker has established himself as a thoughtful screenwriter interested in exploring what makes people tick. With his first feature film, 1995’s Rude, Virgo explored addiction and redemption and their effect on family. Opening in theatres March 9, Virgo’s new film Love Come Down continues the family focus, this time zeroing in on two brothers.

"I’m drawn to what it means to have a family," says the Genie-nominated director. "Does your family have to be black, do they have to be from the same race or is family people who care for you and you care for? I’m really interested in defying the classic notion of family.

"People are like dogs, they really need the pack. If they don’t have the pack they get depressed and lonely, so I think having a family is as natural as breeding."

Love Come Down is definitely not your Cornflakes-variety take on families. The film observes interracial families from two sets of circumstances. Set in urban Toronto, the film’s main focus is the protective yet tentative relationship of two brothers, Neville (Larenz Tate) and Matthew (Martin Cummins).

Neville is a black recovering drug addict who wants to be a comedian. Matthew is a white boxer who attempts to exorcise his internal demons with his fists. Both brothers are haunted by their past–an abusive father who was machete-hacked to death by their mother right before their eyes. Neither of them are able to move on.

"How do I change, how do I grow? That’s essentially what the film’s about," says Virgo "I’m drawn to renewal, I’m drawn to change and I’m drawn to rebirth."

Based on Virgo’s 1995 short film Save My Lost Nigga’ Soul, Love Come Down also focuses on Neville’s love interest, black diva-singer Niko (Deborah Cox) who is from an interracial family herself. Adopted by Jewish parents, Niko struggles with the need to find her birthparents, arriving at many surprises. Together, Niko and Neville find solace.

Virgo says working with first-time actress and R & B diva Cox was easy, as she transferred his stage emotions onto the screen.

"As an actor and a singer she’s courageous because she’s willing to experiment, she’s willing to try things out and push herself," he says.

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