Apparently Church Ball previewed at the LDS Film Festival last month. Looks like Napolean Dynamite has bolstered the recognition of LDS films. Good news for Church Ball.
Making movies of, by Mormons, but for everyone By Michael Alison Chandler WASHINGTON POST
Two thousand feet below the crowds of mainly New Yorkers and Californians filling theaters at the Sundance Film Festival, a large gathering of mostly locals in this Mormon-majority city spends a few days at the movies. Unlike Park City's Main Street, this lower-elevation festival is centered on State Street, in a cheerful theater that has never shown an R-rated movie.
In Orem, Utah, there is no Justin Timberlake, and no paparazzi to trail him; you're more likely to find a cluster of teen girls keen for a glimpse of Kirby Heyborne, star of the movie "The R.M.," about a returned missionary trying to readjust.
Organizers scheduled the LDS (Latter-day Saints) Film Festival to coincide with the deal-making Sundance festival. It's interesting timing in light of the question that some Mormon filmmakers are increasingly pondering: How do you make movies about Mormons or for Mormons that will also appeal to people beyond the Jell-O Belt (the self-referential term for Utah and Idaho, home to large Mormon families)?
Perhaps no one knows the Jell-O Belt rut better than Kurt Hale and Dave Hunter, founders of Orem-based HaleStorm Entertainment. Sort of a Mormon version of the Farrelly brothers (although family-friendly Mormon films generally don't feature profanity, nudity and the like), the pair are famous within LDS circles for their lowbrow comedies. Their 2002 debut, "The Singles Ward," is about a Mormon man looking for love in a special congregation designed for matchmaking. Their dozen films since include "Sons of Provo," a mockumentary about a Mormon boy band called Everclean.
But they realize their easy-laugh comedic formula is beginning to wear on many Mormon moviegoers, and that with all their insider jokes, they have a slim chance of finding much of an audience beyond Utah.
"The novelty factor has worn down quite a bit," Hale concedes. And so the two thirtysomethings from San Jose have a new plan: "We're calling it 'sanitizing' our films. We're taking the religion out of them," Hale explains to a room of 40 people during a preview of their newest film, "Church Ball." Instead of relying on easy Mormon digs, they are now trying to appeal to universal themes: "Broken-down athletes who are trying to relive their glory days. This is something that transcends religion -- Mormon, Islamic ... everyone's going to love it," Hale says.
Nearly 4,000 people turned out for the fifth annual LDS Film Festival, up from 2,800 last year. The increase is a testament to a growing community of Mormon independent filmmakers and the Mormon audiences who love them, or at least live with them, because Mormon cinema -- or Mollywood -- is better than the alternative.
"If Mormons will let other people tell their stories, they will end up with something very far from reality," said filmmaker Richard Dutcher. Case in point: The March HBO drama "Big Love," produced by Tom Hanks, about a fictional polygamist's family is just the latest piece of pop culture to focus on the religion's fundamentalist fringe.
It's not surprising that there should be a growing film presence within the Mormon community: Film has long been part of how the Mormon Church teaches and converts, explains Randy Astle, a film instructor at the Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University. Most Mormons are exposed to this medium from the time they are young, and it can have a lasting impact on the way they think about film, he says.
"One of our main problems in the genre is that most of the people have a hard time stepping away from that," says Dutcher. "When they go out and make a movie about Mormons, they have a missionary feel, (as if) they have an obligation to make more Mormons in the world."
One thing filmmakers have to figure out is how to tell stories that are more realistic, even if that means they are sometimes unflattering to Mormons, says Dutcher. In the mid-1990s, he started thinking there could be a market of 5 million Mormons across the country interested in seeing images that were truer to their lives. His movie "God's Army," a story of two Mormon missionaries in Los Angeles, was released nationwide in 2000 and earned him $2.6 million at the box office, more than 10 times what he spent on the film.
Dozens of filmmakers followed the example, and within five years, the new Mormon cinema has seen the release of "Napoleon Dynamite," co-written and directed by BYU grad Jared Hess, which took in about $45 million; though the film isn't overtly Mormon, the community claims both it and Hess, who worked behind the camera on some early HaleStorm productions. And then there's Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, who has put millions of dollars behind a series of movies called "The Work and the Glory" that tell the early history of the Mormon Church.
But can Mormon filmmakers create mainstream, popular fare that still keeps the faith? Maria Elena de las Carreras, a visiting professor of film history at UCLA, says it's safer to create films that can appeal to religious people by dealing with Judeo-Christian values without singling out one faith.
"You can make a film about sacrifice and redemption and suffering, like 'The Lord of the Rings' -- a film dealing with the human condition and the dangers of being human and how someone responds to a higher power," she notes.
Tasha Oldham, a Los Angeles-based Mormon filmmaker, says she's found that people are fascinated with Latter-day Saints. She directed "The Smith Family," a 2002 documentary about a Mormon family with a gay father and husband who dies of complications of AIDS. Picked up by PBS, it earned her an outstanding directorial achievement award from the Directors Guild of America.
She says she's rooting for the release of a Mormon-themed success that will truly translate some of their cultural idiosyncrasies to a wider audience: "We're still waiting for our Mormon version of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.'"
Last Edit: Feb 12, 2006 21:55:17 GMT -5 by Librarian