A white art student from Nassau falls for a local black islander in this Bahamian gay romancer.

A white art student from Nassau falls for a local black islander in the Bahamian gay romance “Children of God,” from rookie helmer Kareem Mortimer. Though founded on formulaic elements, this gorgeously lensed debut finds moments of grace in its believable central relationship and in the surprisingly levelheaded way in which it depicts a pastor’s wife on a quest to rally anti-gay support in the island nation. Topicality — locally, five men were killed because of their sexuality in 2008 alone — and strong acting should help nudge this pic beyond the gay fest and homevid niche.

Taciturn beanpole Johnny (Johnny Ferro) is told at his Nassau art school that his paintings lack emotion despite brilliant technique. Introverted and struggling with his sexuality in a homophobic society, he travels to the paradisiacal island of Eleuthera, where he hopes to find inspiration for the perfect landscape that will reveal his true self.

This not-very-subtle setup is intercut with scenes of Lena (Margaret Laurena Kemp), the devout wife of strongly anti-gay pastor Ralph Mackey (Ralph Ford). At a doctor’s office, she’s told she has a sexually transmitted disease and is asked to bring in her husband for examination. But Ralph is incensed when he hears his wife’s got an STD and accuses her of sleeping around, though not much later, he’s seen being propositioned by a handsome youngster in a bar.

The characters finally start to breathe of their own accord when strangers Johnny and Lena happen to travel to Eleuthera on the same ferry as local hunk Romeo (Stephen Tyrone Williams). After helping Johnny out with his car, Romeo and the shy art student start hanging out, and the two slowly grow closer. Simultaneously, Lena, who is an acquaintance of Romeo’s, tries to drum up support among Eleuthera churchgoers to demand stricter anti-gay measures from the government. She stays with a more liberal colleague (Van Brown), who confesses he loves God “but also loves movies,” and who insists Lena has the right to live her own life.

Though the pic is clearly an issue-driven movie with a lot — even too much — on its mind, writer-helmer Mortimer does succeed in letting all three protags come into their own, thanks in large part to the strong performances (supporting characters remain largely one-note). As the unlikely couple, Ferro and Williams keep their attraction and their doubts natural, while Kemp steals the show as a pious yet fallible human being whose sole response to the questions that start to prey on her mind is to work more feverishly.

Crystalline widescreen lensing, carefully framed by ace d.p. Ian Bloom, looks like a million bucks on what must have been a very tight budget. Other tech credits are sound.

A tacked-on coda might reflect pervasive Bahamian attitudes toward homosexuality but is in no way directly connected to the main story and could easily be cut.

Children of God

Bahamas

Production

A Mercury Rising Media production. Produced by Richard LeMay, Kareem Mortimer, Trevite Willis. Executive producer, Jay Gotlieb. Directed, written by Kareem Mortimer.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Ian Bloom; editor, Maria Cataldo; music, Nathan Matthew David; production designer, Margot Bethel; costume designer, Jamillah Moss; sound, Tim Korn; associate producer, Nina Hatsopolous. Reviewed at Turin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (competing), April 18, 2010. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Johnny Ferro, Sylvia Adams, Van Brown, Aijalon Coley, Mark Ford, Jay Gotlieb, Margaret Laurena Kemp, Stephen Tyrone Williams, Craig Pinder, Ralph Ford.
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