This is the reason movie fans love attending film festivals. On Tuesday, Out on Film, the city’s 23rd annual LGBT film festival announced its first-ever Jury Award winners and managed to stun everyone. We can report this confidently since Intel served as an Out on Film juror and we still went slack jawed when we opened the email announcement.
“Children of God,” a modestly budgeted drama by Bahamian writer-director Kareem Mortimer and co-produced by Alabama-based Southern Fried Filmworks’ Trevite Willis, practically swept the awards.
The film tied for “Best Film” with the Gus Van Sant-produced Allen Ginsberg poem pic “Howl,” director Mortimer tied with “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” helmer James Kent for the “Best Director” award and “Children of God” lead Johnny Ferro won the “Best Actor” award, besting runner up James Franco for “Howl.”
Set against the backdrop of Caribbean homophobic crime and religious conservatism, “Children of God” explores the complicated lives of Lena, the anti-gay wife of a preacher leading a double life and the two young Bahamian men who end up on a collision course with Lena and her followers.
Given the sizable budget differences between “Howl” and “Children of God,” the win is something akin to “Little Miss Sunshine” besting “Titanic” at the Oscars.
And given how strong the week-long, 50-film, two-venue Out on Film festival line-up is this year, the sweep is equally surprising.
Audience-goers who attended the film’s Monday night screening praised the film’s nuanced, mesmerizing performances by Ferro, Stephen Tyrone Williams and Margaret Laurena Kemp, Mortimer’s beautifully written and twist-filled script and the film’s breath-taking cinematography.
When we caught up by phone with Ferro on Tuesday, he was still attempting to take it all in while reading the notes of congratulations piling up on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“My mom found out before I did and called me this morning,” he allowed, laughing. “I went from being horizontal to leaping up and down in about three seconds!”
Given the film’s controversial themes, Ferro admits there were risks shooting “Children of God” on location last year.
“Knowing these gay murders were happening around you made things a little intense at times,” he explained. “We had maybe two cops on set with us. We were asked to leave a church after a couple of takes when the church people who had given us permission to film found out what the movie was about. I didn’t realize at that time that I would become the poster child for gay interracial relationships in the Bahamas!”
And beating out James Franco with his first starring role in a feature film?
“‘Howl’ is an amazing film,” says Ferro. “I can’t honestly say that I’m more deserving of the award than James Franco. But I will say it feels great!”
“Children of God” has now been scheduled for an encore screening set for 1:45 p.m. Thursday at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and will debut on DVD in March. Out on Film’s audience awards will be announced on Thursday, the festival’s closing night.
For Out on Film’s complete line-up, go to the festival’s official website. Fans, meanwhile, can “like” “Children of God” on its Facebook page.