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‘Children of God’ hits the big apple

They say if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.  After a long festival season following their premiere at The Bahamas Film Festival in December 2009, the award-winning Bahamian film “Children of God” had its theatrical release last Friday, May 20 in New York, New York.

The event is a big triumph for our underrepresented film scene internationally, says Kareem Mortimer, the writer and director of the film.  During question and answer sessions at its matinee and evening premieres at The Quad cinema in Greenwich Village, Mortimer found many viewers simply fascinated by a film from The Bahamas, and touched that a film from such a different culture could resonate with them.

“I guess people haven’t really seen The Bahamas a lot, we haven’t really been represented a lot,” Mortimer says.  “We’ve been represented to ourselves but not a whole lot outside of our country besides (Maria Govan’s) ‘Rain’.  People were able to see that there’s a different world and it wasn’t dissimilar from the world they live in too.”

“Children on God” follows protagonist Jonny, a young Bahamian artist, as he struggles to explore and accept his true self by traveling to the out island Eleuthera for inspiration.  Grappling with issues of sexuality, religion, and isolation, the film juxtaposes the more cruel aspects of Bahamian society against a breathtaking natural landscape to tell a poignant story about the human condition.  It is these themes, Mortimer points out, that make the film resonate with people all around the world.

“I think there’s something for everybody in this movie.  I know that’s a really broad thing to say but I really feel that way.  I feel it speaks to all people and it takes on a lot – it takes on religion in a compassionate way, it takes on sexuality — it takes on all these things,” he says.

“There’s something for each person to hold on to in this movie, and I hope that what they get out of it is a challenge to do better and to love yourself unconditionally — because when you love yourself unconditionally, that’s something no one can take away from you, not even death can.”

It’s perhaps why the film has gained such widespread recognition prior to hitting the big city; already it has racked up 14 film awards from various international festivals, with more perhaps on the horizon — next month sees Mortimer visiting Aruba for the Aruba International Film Festival, and their film run ends in a final festival in October.

For him, it’s been an eye-opener to engage with people and in cultures around the world as he shares his film with them and to see how each place interprets aspects of the films differently.  While one set of viewers may be interested in the biracial relationship of the film, another may find the cinematography of note, and yet another the writing.  The film, however, always hits close to home for those a stone’s throw away from our shores.

“In The Caribbean, they just get it, doesn’t matter what island they’re from — they understand what happened to Johnny, what needed to happen, and the fact that the voice is speaking to include all Bahamians in the story,” says Mortimer.

At the same time, he’s confident the film positively and beautifully represents The Bahamas to foreign viewers and may pique their interest in visiting to learn more about the culture, acting as an eye-opener or perhaps window into a place only known through Atlantis and Sandals commercials.

“People don’t think about the Caribbean really, only in the form of a hotel or beach, and they don’t think of people with lives here, human beings which are not dissimilar to themselves, just in a different context,” Mortimer says.  “I think sometimes people have no idea where they come to vacation, or what the read about, and I think the film just makes it much more of a richer experience for people who may come to visit.”

The film will continue to make waves next month as it premieres in Miami, Florida, and will premiere on the movie channel Showtime on Monday, June 2nd at 7pm, taking the film to a wider audience.  It will also be officially released on DVD on June 7th, becoming available on Netflix, Blockbuster, iTunes and Amazon, and distributed in over 10 countries.  Without a doubt, “Children of God” has made a lasting impact on the international movie scene, and it isn’t finished yet.

As for Kareem Mortimer, he’ll hit the ground running on a number of films as this festival run comes to an end.  His documentary “I’m Not a Dummy” will be released in July, and a number of other films — including one written by an Oscar winner — are in the works.  Though he’ll be sad to wrap up his debut feature length film, he’s excited about what’s to come.

“It’s been wonderful to connect with different people around the world and see how different people experience the film and to see the movie that so many Bahamian people I know worked on.  That’s really awesome,” he says.  “I think I’ll always look back on this time as something really special.  I hope I can do it again but there’s nothing like the first time.”



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