WHAT YOU end up liking most about "Brother to Brother" is the movie playing in filmmaker Rodney Evans's head. The very idea of a young black man (played by the likable Anthony Mackie) grappling with his gay identity and bonding with an elderly Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), who experienced similar issues as a gay artist during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s, is imaginative and provocative.
Perry (Mackie) is a gay painter living in Brooklyn who was kicked out of his family home by his homophobic father. He is searching for self identity, and an artistic voice. He'd really like a meaningful romantic relationship, instead of the cruising encounters he has had to be satisfied with. He is also consumed with the way society -- even African American society -- treats and regards black gay men.
A Harlem Renaissance poet (Roger Robinson, left) and a young gay artist (Anthony Mackie) form a friendship in "Brother to Brother."
(Constanza Mirre -- Wolfe Video)
He gets a deeper perspective on these and other issues when, at a homeless shelter, he meets Bruce, a poet and painter who was one of the lesser-known figures in the Harlem Renaissance.
In conversations with Bruce, Perry learns about the older man's role as co-founder of the literary journal called Fire! along with collaborators Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis) and Wallace Thurman (Ray Ford).
We see most of these memories in black-and-white flashback scenes, as Bruce (played as a young man by Duane Boutte) and his fellow artists and friends try to live an open, permissive lifestyle and make their magazine succeed. This means, among many things, resisting a white publisher's request to play up the badness in their stories and "translate" black idioms into "English," and dealing with the NAACP, which tries to have copies of the journal removed from newsstands and other outlets.
Perry realizes his experiences are not unique.
Writer-director Evans creates a fluid transition between Perry in the present and Bruce's past. And there's a nice surreal flow. But "Brother" works far better as an idea than its execution; this has to do with the difficulties of making profound statements with limited budgets and technology, and also grappling with the still-growing sensibilities of an emerging writer. This is a bold, earnest freshman venture, with all the excitements and drawbacks inherent. Evans's spirit is the best thing about "Brother." The viewers interested in this movie in the first place are likely to mentally provide that extra bit of help. After all, such a personal movie -- especially one that's a trapeze-balancing act of faith -- amounts to an intimate dialogue between the artist and a sensitized audience.
(Rodney Evans will discuss his movie with the audience after the 7 and 9:35 screenings Friday and Saturday.)
BROTHER TO BROTHER (Unrated, 91 minutes) -- Contains sexual scenes, sensuality and obscenity. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.