Ian Harnarine was born in Toronto, Canada, and is the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago. He attended York University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Physics and Astronomy, and had the opportunity to perform research at a particle accelerator in Hamburg, Germany.
Sticking with the sciences, Harnarine moved to Chicago, where he received a master’s degree in Nuclear Physics from the University of Illinois. While in Chicago, he was a tutor/mentor for children from the troubled Cabrini-Green housing projects and also started a video program to help develop the voices of those young people. Eventually finding physics research unfulfilling, he decided to leave the sciences, move to Brooklyn and become a filmmaker.
Harnarine has since earned a master of fine arts degree from New York University’s film school. Harnarine is a member of the National Board of Review, Academy of Canadian Cinema &Television, and the Television Academy.
His films include work for TED and Sesame Street, one of which earned an Emmy nomination. Harnarine's film Doubles with Slight Pepper, executive produced by Spike Lee, won the Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian Academy Award. Caroni, the story of a West Indian domestic worker in New York, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and continues to be screened at festivals around the world. Harnarine is currently adapting David Chariandy’s landmark novel Soucouyant and developing a feature adaptation of Doubles with Slight Pepper.
Harnarine was selected by Filmmaker Magazine as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film, profiled in the New York Times and named one of Playback magazine’s 10to Watch.