- For one of the most visually stunning and emotionally beautiful scenes in film history
Starring – Johnny Ferro, Stephen Tyrone Williams, Margaret Laurena Kemp, Mark Ford, Van Brown, Leslie Vanderpool, Craig Pinder, Jason Elwood Hanna
Directed by Kareem J. Mortimer
Children of God is a movie that reminded me why I first fell in love with films when I was four years old and saw the original Star Wars film for the first time; they have always found a way to reach into my soul and affect me in such profound ways that even though I have a website where all I do is write lots and lots of words about movies, they still leave me speechless.
I attended a film festival recently, Pride of the Ocean (which I now officially call the best damn film festival out there), where I got to screen Children of God with the writer and director of the film, Kareem Mortimer, in attendance. The film festival was on a cruise ship (hence one of the reasons why it’s the best damn film festival out there) and we were in a very small group of people amongst the 6,500 passengers on the ship, about 60 of us attending the festival, so everyone in the audience had already gotten to know Kareem a bit since we were all stuck on a cruise ship together. It’s a great way to bond. 🙂 During the screening, we were docked in Jamaica (now are you seeing why it’s the best damn film festival out there, because we were all watching and discussing films while sailing through the Caribbean), but a lot of us had stayed on the ship instead of exploring the island because we had been warned by the cruise director (who wasn’t Julie from The Love Boat, dammit!) about the recent violence against LGBTQ people in Jamaica and it was probably a good idea that we members of an LGBTQ film festival stay on the boat…I mean ship (people on cruise ships apparently just can’t help but correct you that you’re on a ship and not on a boat). So a lot of us stayed on the boat…I mean ship to watch Children of God instead. And what a perfect movie to screen during this very unsettling reminder that us in the LGBTQ family are still hated on to the point of violence, because Children of God is set in the Bahamas during a time of unravel within Bahamian society when Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Vacations was coming into port and they didn’t want the gays in their country. And here we were, a bunch of LGBTQ film fans attending a film festival on a cruise ship that was docked in a port that wouldn’t accept us either and it was 14 years later. So we were all basically watching art from a not-so-distant past imitate our present lives.
Children of God tells the story of two gay men who dare to fall in love in the Bahamas as the country is in the midst of turmoil and protests over homosexuality. Johnny (played with such sweet sensitivity and vulnerability by Johnny Ferro) is a painter who has hit a wall with his love life and creativity. On the verge of failing out of art school, his teacher suggests he escape to her home to find the inspiration he needs to become the truly great artist he was meant to be. But instead of escaping his problems, Johnny runs into them head-on when he meets Romeo (played by the very hot and very talented Stephen Tyrone Williams). Romeo is deep in the closet, but he immediately falls for Johnny and doesn’t seem to mind if Johnny knows this. A beautiful, touching and heartbreaking romance ensues, reminding us in the audience of a time not so long ago when it was pretty much only dangerous and even sometimes deadly to be gay in our own country. And sadly, it still is for many of us around the world in present day.
And while Johnny and Romeo were falling in love on the big screen (because that’s what is so awesome about film festivals, you get to actually see films on a big screen instead of on your tiny phone or tablet, boo!), I was falling in love with Kareem as a director and storyteller. To me, movies have always looked like moving paintings, and the way Kareem uses a camera, I couldn’t help but see beautiful moving paintings in practically every scene he shot for Children of God. But the scene that reached right in and grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go was during a simple dance between Johnny and Romeo. All alone without even music to accompany them, Johnny and Romeo finally let go together and dance one of the hottest and most breathtaking dances in film history (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers step aside, you got some major competition) and it all had to do with the way Kareem used the camera. As we, the audience, stayed on a cruise ship to avoid the dangers of reality on land, we were rewarded with the gift of being able to watch a gloriously amazing moving painting of two men falling in love and that just doesn’t happen often in film. So while I was watching the dancing scene for the very first time, falling in love with its beauty, I held onto that wonderful feeling of falling in love with a film for as long as I could, because that feeling doesn’t happen often, but God, I love it when it does happen. The only thing that tops that feeling is falling in love with my wife. Who needed Jamaica when we had this beautiful image to take home amongst our memories of an unforgettable and magical film festival.
So thank you, Kareem, for making such a beautiful film and for reminding me why I’ve been in love with movies since I was four years old. 🙂
Children of God is available on DVD through TLA Releasing and it’s also available on Amazon. Isn’t everything by now? It’s also streaming on Vimeo. I highly recommend getting the DVD (yes, I know, no one buys them anymore), because it has the short film Float, which Kareem used as the basis for Children of God, so you can see how this magical film all started. And I’ll just add that Kareem said after we screened Float that it was inspired by his romance with his husband…Now say it with me, “Awwww.” 🙂
Fun Fact: Shy me got up the courage to ask Kareem to autograph the DVD of Children of God that he so very kindly gave to me. And now I have the autograph amongst my very small, but slowly growing collection of autographs from some of my favorite filmmakers and actors. And this autograph is even more special because…
…Kareem misspelled my name, bless his heart (I think people get confused with spelling Ali Naro because it has so many vowels). We were all so exhausted by this point in the trip, so I don’t blame him for getting the spelling of my name wrong. I didn’t even notice the misspelling for quite a while myself, I was so exhausted from such a great experience. Plus, he’s in great company because…
…Henry Winkler misspelled my name too. My uncle worked for Henry Winkler, aka Fonzie, a million years ago, or 1984 as the autograph says. My uncle just had Mr. Winkler mark out the extra “l” in my name (I go professionally by Ali Naro, but my legal first name is actually Alison). I don’t know why my uncle didn’t have Mr. Winkler just sign a new picture for me with the correct spelling of my name, but that’s my uncle for you. So I now have a subset in my very small autograph collection of my name being misspelled, and I kind of like this new subset of autographs of mine. My uncle usually didn’t have nice things to say about the famous actors, musicians and other artists he worked with, but then again, he never really liked people in general, famous or not, but he only had nice things to say about Mr. Winkler. And I only have nice things to say about Kareem. It was such a pleasure to spend time with you too, Kareem, and I can’t wait to watch your films for years to come. 🙂
P.S.: After the screening of Children of God, my wife and I had planned to stay on the ship (see how I didn’t say boat, so I’m learning), but we spotted a Margaritaville restaurant from the balcony of our cabin and so we dared to enter Jamaica just so I could get my dad a t-shirt for his birthday. So, we were able to spend about an hour in Jamaica, but we, unfortunately, had to play it very cautiously as a couple, reminding us of our days when we lived in Florida and constantly feared harassment and possible violence just for simply holding hands. We skipped the hand-holding in Jamaica, which really bothered me that after almost 20 years together, we still find ourselves in places where we have to censor our romance, not because we are ashamed of it, but simply because we want to survive without harm or incident. So, Children of God and Jamaica had not only been a reminder of the not-so-distant past, but that we still have such a long way to go to reach equality in the future. Oh well. At least I was able to get my dad a pretty awesome birthday present. 🙂