Thursday, February 16, 2006

The state of Mormon film

At the recent LDS Film Festival, the Deseret News (January 27, 2006) reported, Richard Dutcher was irked. Apparently Mormon audiences are choosing "the goofy stuff" - like "Singles Ward," "R.M." and "The Home Teachers" - over his more serious work. His movies "Brigham City" and "States of Grace" have not had the audiences the lighter works have had. Dutcher said "it is time for faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to vote for cinematic excellence with their pocketbooks."

Surely, room exists in the marketplace for both types of movies. I have yet to see "States of Grace," but enjoyed "Brigham City," which brought together the secular and religious in an intriguing mystery story. I also enjoyed "Singles Ward" and the other "ha ha" movies because they made fun of Mormon culture. They were not great movies, but I was able to laugh at them and myself. As Mormons, we should laugh at ourselves more often.

One of the better movies poking fun at our culture is "The Best Two Years." It brought back great memories of my own two years as a missionary in France. I feel other movies, including the "Work and the Glory" and "Saints and Soldiers," reached a higher standard than even "Brigham City." I enjoyed the "Work and the Glory" movie much better than the book. (The characterization in the book was too one dimensional.) You wouldn't know "Saints and Soldiers" was an LDS film, except that the lead character had strong values and served a mission in Germany before the World War II. ("Saints and Soldiers" won 14 Best Picture Awards at film festivals nationwide. In my view it is also worthy of an Oscar.)

Another good movie that is not recognizable as an LDS film is Johnny Lingo. Financed by Tahitian Noni International, it is a remake of the Sunday School classic. The "Other Side of Heaven," also based in Polynesia, is obviously about a Mormon missionary, but appeals to a general audience. It was only so, so as a movie.

The big movie success was "Napoleon Dynamite," which reached block buster status. Of course, it had universal appeal and any critique of Mormon culture was a critique of American culture generally. We learned that Preston, Idaho, in the heart of Mormon country is no different than any other small town in America. All the same prejudices exist among Mormons as in the general population.

Frankly, I like what has been happening in the LDS film industry. It is sad that it is not supported better financially. However, it still is in its fledgling state and will continue to get better. Thank you, Richard Dutcher for your contribution. Please don't get discouraged. I'll be watching you - and your movies.

P.S. I'm a little disappointed by movies made by the LDS Church itself. The recent Joseph Smith movie was disappointing in its portrayal of the greatest religious figure of our time. I really feel it failed to grasp the importance and mission of Joseph Smith. PBS did a much better job in their portrayal of the Prophet.

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