Jennifer Hodge de Silva
Jennifer Hodge de Silva, née Hodge, documentary filmmaker (born 28 January 1951 in Montréal, QC; died 5 May 1989 in Montréal).
Jennifer Hodge de Silva, née Hodge, documentary filmmaker (born 28 January 1951 in Montréal, QC; died 5 May 1989 in Montréal). Jennifer Hodge de Silva was a pioneering African-Canadian filmmaker of the 1970s and 1980s. She produced an acclaimed and influential body of work known as realist social-issue documentary. Her highly regarded film Home Feeling: A Struggle for Community (1983) is widely taught in post-secondary film studies programs throughout Canada.
Education and Early Career
The daughter of broadcaster, civil servant, diplomat and best-selling author Mairuth Hodge Sarsfield, Jennifer Hodge was exposed to arts and culture throughout her childhood. She completed her secondary school education at the École d'Humanité in Hasliberg-Goldern, Switzerland, which resulted in a cosmopolitan perspective on the world, as well as becoming fluent in French and German, and proficient in Italian.
She returned to Canada to attend Glendon College at York University in Toronto, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Fine Arts in 1974. She then apprenticed at the National Film Board in Montréal before returning to Toronto to attend Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University), where she received a Bachelor of Applied Television Arts in 1979. That year, she also directed the NFB short film Canada Vignettes: Helen Law, a portrait of a Chinese immigrant and her first-generation Canadian son.
While still a student, Hodge served as assistant director and associate producer on the film Fields of Endless Day (1978), one of the first Canadian productions to significantly chronicle nearly 400 years in the history of African Canadians. The film was directed by Terence Macartney-Filgate, with whom she worked — as associate producer — on the CBC TV production Dieppe 1942 (1979). For this two-part documentary about the disastrous Dieppe raid during the Second World War, Hodge was responsible for organizing the German involvement, which included convincing German army and Luftwaffe veterans to participate. The acclaimed film went on to receive the CBC's Prix Anik.
In 1982, Jennifer Hodge married fellow filmmaker Paul de Silva. Together they founded the production company Jenfilms Inc., and subsequently produced a diverse body of work, including: Joe David: Spirit of the Mask (1981), a profile of Clayoquot ceremonial mask artist Joe David; The Edenshaw Legacy (1984), which showcases the work of Haida artist Charles Edenshaw; and the TV series Inside Stories (1989), which chronicles the experiences of ethnically diverse residents of Toronto. Jenfilms also created the acclaimed series Neighbourhoods, which examined the history and character of different communities across Canada. It included a “Kensington Market” (1985) episode narrated by King of Kensington star Al Waxman.
Hodge de Silva’s signature film, Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (1983), explored the troubled relations between the Toronto Police Service and residents of the city's predominantly Black Jane–Finch district. The intense and complex portrayal of the overall situation, including the views of both the police and the residents, remains relevant. Home Feeling is recognized as a liberal realist documentary that gives a voice to an otherwise marginalized community.
Hodge de Silva’s sensitive yet uncompromising approach to documentary filmmaking presented complex social conditions through intimate explorations of personal experience. She was the first Black filmmaker to work consistently with both the National Film Board (NFB) and the CBC. Her groundbreaking work provided a pathway for future filmmakers such as Clement Virgo, Sylvia Hamilton and Jennifer Holness.
Hodge de Silva died of cancer at age 38 at Montréal’s Royal Victoria Hospital, where she was born. The biographical documentary Jennifer Hodge: The Glory and the Pain (1992), made as a tribute to her life and work, features recollections from those closest to her. Black on Screen: Images of Black Canadians 1950s–90s, a commemorative film catalogue published by the NFB in 1992, was dedicated “to the memory of Jennifer Hodge de Silva, in honor of the pioneer film work she accomplished.”
Cameron Bailey, "A Cinema of Duty: The Films of Jennifer Hodge de Silva", ed. Kay Armatage et al., Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women's Cinema (University of Toronto, 1999).
Stephen Dale, "Hodge Probes Corridor Struggle," NOW Magazine, vol. 2, no. 46 (July 28–Aug. 3, 1983).
Gabrielle Hezekiah, "Don't Go to Dat Place and Fool Around Like Rich Girls: Black Canadian Women Filmmakers and Video Artists," CineAction: Radical Film Criticism and Theory, no. 32 (fall 1993).
Maureen Flynn-Burhoe, "Positive Presence of Absence: A History of the African Canadian Community through Works in the Permanent Collection of the National Gallery of Canada" (Carleton University, 2003).