Director Kareem Mortimer Talks Religion, the Carribean, and Gay Love

After producing several documentary films (and a few shorts) over the last six years, Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer has finally made the leap to feature-length fiction work with Children of God. And he has no intention of looking back. "Documentaries were really, really important to me. I will probably return to that form at some time. But it won't be in the next five years. I've always wanted to do narrative," he says.

Already, Mortimer has co-directed his second feature film, Wind Jammers, currently in post-production. Plus he's working on a romantic comedy that should start shooting sometime in the spring of 2011. This weekend, however, the writer-director will visit Miami to promote Children of God, a film he describes as "a love story between a black Bahamian and a white Bahamian." The movie will screen twice, once tomorrow and again on Sunday, as the Miami International Film Festival winds down.

New Times: You shot some of your films in Miami. What's your connection to this city?

Kareem Mortimer: I moved to Miami when I was 17 to go to film school at the Miami International School of Art & Design. And I lived there until I was 22. So in early 2003 I left and I came back to the Bahamas. You know, I kind of became a man in Miami and found my voice and got a chance to experiment with my craft.

The synopsis on the MIFF site describes Children of God as "a scathing examination of the underlying hatred for gays rampant in Caribbean societies." Is that accurate?

Well, it really is a love story. I think scathing is a bit strong. It's about connection, celebrating what's vulnerable about ourselves, and looking at the humanity in us all, as opposed to having this overt agenda of speaking about how awful it may be for homosexuals in the Caribbean.

Were there any instances of real-life homophobia that inspired this film?

The film takes place in a time when there were protests in the Bahamas against gay cruises that were coming here. I was living here at the time. And it was crazy. They had all these talk shows and people were saying really hateful things on the radio. The language was very dangerous.

It seems to be a common perception that homophobia is culturally engrained in Caribbean societies. Do you disagree with that assumption?

No. I agree with that.

Is it something tied directly to religion?

I believe that religion plays a huge part. But that's a very difficult question, you know. Religion doesn't teach you to be homophobic. In the film, I talk about religion, but I don't say that religion is the cause. Homosexuality is present in everybody's life and we try to cover it in so many ways.

The reason I ask that question about religion is there's a secretly gay pastor in the film.

There are two pastors in the film. First, there's the gay pastor Ralph Mackie, who's the husband of Lena, the main female character in the film. Then, there's Reverend Richie, who's questioning his religious beliefs, but he's not gay. These two people play against each other. Reverend Richie is a guy who's not really bothered by homosexuals and sees their humanity. Meanwhile, the secretly closeted pastor speaks very vehemently against gays.

So Ralph Mackie's homophobia and fear is stoked by self-denial?

Yeah. The film is about fear and hypocrisy. I think as human beings we try hide what's vulnerable about ourselves. But, you know, what's vulnerable about ourselves is usually also what's beautiful. And when we try to hide that we turn ourselves into all sorts of horrible things.

Children of God, Dir. Kareem Mortimer, 103 minutes. Screening Saturday, March 13 at 9:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas (1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach), and Sunday, March 14 at 9 p.m., Tower Theater (1508 SW 8th St., Miami). 305-405-MIFF; miamifilmfestival.com.

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