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Breaking The Silence
 
Director Kareem Mortimer Talks Film
By Troy Maillis 

In a country where homosexuality is still relatively taboo, a love story taking place on the island of Eluthera in the Bahamas is breaking down barriers and opening the door for gay Bahamians to express themselves. Written and directed by Bahamian director Kareem Mortimer, Children of God, currently available on DVD, tells the stories of three very different individuals: Lena, the conservative, deeply religious wife of a secretly gay firebrand pastor; Romeo, a handsome young black man hiding his sexuality from his close-knit and loving family; and Johnny, the conflicted and creatively-blocked white artist in search of himself.

All three characters head for the spectacularly beautiful and tranquil island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, each with a different reason for escaping their current circumstances. Soon, their disparate worlds collide in unexpected and affecting ways. The film features a stellar ensemble cast, which includes Stephen Tyrone Williams (Ruined), Mark Richard Ford (Rent), Margaret Laurena Kemp (Commander in Chief) and Johnny Ferro (The Video Guys).

Director Kareem Mortimer (left) recently spoke with Markís List about making Children of God, homophobia in the Bahamas and what makes this film unique to other gay-related films.

Children of God was shown in New York and in Miami and now itís available for audiences on DVD.  Can you talk about taking on a project like this?

Being born and raised in the Bahamas, the language is very homophobic. After being away from the Bahamas and then coming back, I talked with my friends about the situation.  Instead of complaining about it, I decided to make a movie addressing the climate and challenge people to do betteróto wrap it in a love story that would be acceptable.  I wanted to portray characters that people could identify with and speak to them in a certain way. The story takes place in Eluthera.  The island is very magical and dramaticóit just begs to be photographed. It involves a white Bahamian, a black Bahamian and a conservative Christian woman and how their lives intersect on the island. 

Were you nervous about making a movie about this topic? Homosexuality is rather taboo in the Caribbean.

I was for a second, and then I realized how much it would have meant to me to have a movie like this when I was growing up. It would have been so fantastic to have a movie that would have made sense of what I was feeling. I decided I couldnít let fear enter my mind, and people have been really great about it here and outside the country.

Have you received any criticism from the Bahamas for tackling this issue?

I donít really pay attention to criticism unless itís constructive. I get really affected by those kinds of things, so I try to avoid it. I can take criticism about the art but not really the subject matter.

Did you draw from your own experiences when writing this film? Is the character ďRomeoĒ someone you know in your life?

Itís not autobiographical, but I definitely pulled from certain moments in my life living in the Bahamas. I pulled from my own experiences with bullies, but the majority of the story was inspired by friends and their experiences.

How are you hoping the character affect the audience?

The film mainly focuses on two boys: Johnny, a white Bahamian boy, and Romeo, a middle class black Bahamian boy. Mixed in there is Lena, who is an anti-gay wife of a firebrand preacher. The film doesnít speak to everybody, but I hope the film finds boys like Johnny and Romeo and parents who donít really understand the issues.  Thatís why Lenaís character was incorporated into the mixósomeone who is basically on the opposite spectrum.  Whether the audience views homosexuality as right or wrong, the message is that we should treat each other with respectóso in that sense itís for both a gay and straight audience.

How do you think the view of homosexuality has changed over the last few years in the Bahamas? Do you think itís heading in a more positive direction?

I definitely think itís heading in a more positive direction. I think the more people become educated and expand their horizons, the more open we become.  There are a lot of artists and filmmakers coming out that are doing really great things.  Things are changing, but thereís still a heavy shadow of religion that still views homosexuality negatively.

What was your experience like shooting in the Bahamas and working with the cast?

We started shooting in Nassau, and it was really tough to shoot thereóit has grown so much. Then we went to Eluthera and it was amazing.  There are miles and miles of beaches to shoot on and the people are so nice. A few of the locals were used as extras.  We were pretty much left alone to do what we wanted to do.  The cast is a mix of Bahamian actors and non-Bahamian actors.  The two main male characters are not Bahamian, but everyone was really great to work with.

What do you think makes this film different than other films dealing with gay relationships and homophobia?

These peopleóBahamiansóhave never really been seen before in movies. Itís so strange to hear that a movie is even from the Bahamas.  Itís an examination of a culture thatís fresh to a lot of people. Itís not happening in a big cityóitís happening on an island. The performances are very genuine and it stands out at a film.  Itís beautiful.

The DVD of Children of God contains special features such as a directorís commentary, deleted scenes, and the official trailer, as well as Mortimerís award-winning short film, Float


 
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