Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

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The State of LDS Film

Posted by Chris H. on January 19, 2008

I am, at the moment, attending the 7th annual LDS Film Festival taking place in Orem, Utah. I participated remotely last year, serving as a judge for the screenwriting competition, but this is my first year as an attendee. I will confess that I came to the festival with mixed expectations, having seen a long train of LDS-themed movies that were less than exemplary. If, however, what I have seen thus far represents the future of Mormon filmmaking, I think there is great cause for hope.

We spent most of the day yesterday attending workshops with LDS filmmakers, many of whom spoke eloquently and confidently about the business of movie-making and about their personal experiences in getting their films made. Then, starting late in the afternoon, we watched a series of 11 short films, almost all of which evidenced the great promise of the writers and directors who made them. It was interesting to note that of those 11 films, only one of them was overtly Mormon in theme, and that film was really just a glorified commercial soliciting donations for BYU. It felt as though LDS filmmakers are finally coming to the conclusion that they can make movies that have an authentically spiritual tone without shooting through gauzy filters or laying soundtracks that rely upon the swelling choruses of thinly disguised Mormon hymns.

The highlight of the day was an hour-long presentation by Charles Oliver and Tyler Measom – the writer/director and producer, respectively, of a film entitled Take – followed later that evening by a screening of the movie. Take is a dark, difficult film that may not appeal to those who go to the theater purely for escape or entertainment, but it is also an astonishingly powerful and beautiful movie that, despite its darkness, has moments of hope and grace. This movie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will be in theaters shortly, has a clear spiritual undertone, was made by apparently faithful Latter Day Saints, but will have broad public appeal.

For too long, LDS filmmakers have used as their financial paradigm the 2002 hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was made for $5 million and went on to gross $368 million at the box office. Read the business plans of any number of Mormon-themed movies and you will find at least one reference to the success of that film. And while, at some point, someone will make a movie about Mormon culture that has broad crossover appeal, there will only be one of those movies. How many movies about Greek culture have you seen since MBFGW?

In order to make movies that have broad appeal and are financially viable, Mormon filmmakers are going to have to excise from their storytelling the cultural aspects of their religious lives and focus on the core spiritual principles that underlie the Mormon experience. Charles Oliver, the director of Take, may never make a movie about Joseph Smith or the pioneer trek, but I came away from his movie with a renewed appreciation for the principles of tolerance and forgiveness and patience and for the efficacy of the Atonement. If all of his movies have similar themes, and are made to appeal to a mass audience, then they will accomplish a far greater good then mediocrities like The Book of Mormon Movie, that are made with the best of intentions but are so specific to our culture and so heavy handed that they will never get beyond preaching to the choir.

In The Year of Living Dangerously, the character Billy Kwan is asked by Mel Gibson’s character, Guy Hamilton, why he continues to serve the poor when it is clear that his service does so little good. Billy says, “I support the view that you just don’t think about the major issues, you do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light.” Lives change by tiny, almost imperceptible increments. Movies like Take and others now showing at the LDS Film Festival are evidence that LDS filmmakers can and will be instruments of that change not only within the microcosm of Mormondom, but in the larger world as well.

7 Responses to “The State of LDS Film”

  1. austin s said

    I was also very impressed with the film festival. This is the first one I’ve ever been to, and I went to Take Friday night, and I agree that it is an excellently made film. I felt like it dragged a bit at times, but by the end of the movie it more than makes up for any flaws. Then just today I saw Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons and it was wonderful too. Those are the only two I’m going to have the opportunity to see at this festival, but they definitely gave me a lot of hope for “Mormon” cinema!

  2. Shawn L said

    Thanks for the report. This is heartening news — I, for one, can’e bear the tripe put out by the Halestorm bunch. It’s good to hear there other, more thoughtful LDS artists working. I;m intrigued by your thoughts on “Take.” However, living in So. Cal., I’m afraid I’ll never have chance to see it. Do you know whether is scheduled for nationwide release? I’m also very eager to see the “Nobody Knows” documenatary — I’ve been reading about it for quite some time. Again, does anyone here know whether I can expect to find it outside of Utah?

    I am also curious as to the status of Richard Dutcher amongst this bunch of folks. His “Falling” is due to be out soon, and he has been very open about what he considers to be shoddy treatment from the LDS community (in particular, other LDS filmmakers). Indeed, it seems to me he is purposefully poking them in the proverbial eye every chance he gets. Nevertheless, I would imagine his shadow still looms large at festivals like this? Was he or his movie discussed at all?

  3. austin s said

    Nobody Knows is supposed to be playing in San Diego sometime soon, according to the filmmakers. I don’t think they had a date set yet, but hopefully it will be put up on http://www.untoldstoryofblackmormons.com beforehand.

  4. oranhall said

    And Take is apparently going to open in five or six cities, including Los Angeles, sometime in April or May.

  5. austin s said

    Juvenile Instructor just had a post about Nobody Knows, and it will be shown at the San Diego Black Film Festival which is taking place from Jan. 31-Feb. 3.

  6. Shawn L said

    Any Dutcher talk?

  7. oranhall said

    Occasional passing references to Dutcher, but no formal discussion.

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