When Portland filmmaker Jon Garcia was 14, he made out with a girl for the first time, an experience he describes as "very innocent." Yet afterwards, Garcia, who grew up Catholic in South Texas, experienced a wave of shame. "I felt like I'd somehow let God down by giving into my carnal curiosity," he says. "I asked her to leave, and I prayed. I prayed for hours and hours and hours."
Little did Garcia know the experience would later be echoed in his Falls trilogy, which delves into the years-spanning romance of RJ (Nick Ferrucci) and Chris (Benjamin Farmer), two gay Mormon missionaries whose love for each other clashes with the strict parameters of their faith. It's a conflict that culminates in The Falls: Covenant of Grace, which will have its Portland premiere this Sunday at the 5th Avenue Cinema.
Shot in Portland, Covenant of Grace finds RJ and Chris at an emotional and spiritual crossroads. While they've outrun many of the obstacles that once divided them, the fusing of RJ's frustration with the Latter-day Saints' intolerance and Chris' continued devoutness imperils their long-distance relationship. The chilly disapproval of Chris' imperious father (Bruce Jennings), a high-ranking official in the church, doesn't help matters. RJ and Chris must wrestle with whether they should commit to being a couple or end their romantic journey.
Garcia had just a little over 25 days to shoot the film and hopefully overcome the derisive reviews that greeted the second installment in the series, 2013's The Falls: Testament of Love. "It's hard to see your work criticized, especially in a publication like Variety magazine or the L.A. Times or The Village Voice," Garcia confesses, adding with a bitter laugh, "All three of them shit all over Testament of Love."
That said, the battering of Testament doesn't seem to have overly fazed Garcia. He's proud of Covenant of Grace, which he characterizes as a story about RJ and Chris proving that it's possible to exist as both a gay man and a man of God.
That sense of finality made for an emotional last day of shooting. "I spent a good portion of the last seven years working with these films. I've gotten close to these people," says Garcia. "I'm hugely grateful for these films, and it's kind of sad to see them go."
SEE IT: The Falls: Covenant of Grace is not rated. It screens at 5th Avenue Cinema. 4 pm Sunday, Jan. 15.