Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Art Imitates Life?

Someone, commenting on my blog about the film fest, told a story about the impact of an LDS film, “God’s Army” in this case.

I quote: “Seeing it with my fiance was the catalyst for him joining the church. After seeing the movie, we had a serious talk about my concerns with our future. I had been inactive when we met and got engaged, I postponed our wedding 6 months later and returned to church but stayed engaged. After seeing God's Army, which was the most exposure he'd had to anything LDS, we talked and I said I had concerns about having children in a divided home, even knowing that he would let me take them to church I knew it was not the example to set. He said he'd be willing to learn more. He started taking the discussions and was baptized a couple months later and we were married a couple months after that and sealed on our 1st anniversary! “

This is cool on so many levels.

First of all, it’s just plain great to see people come to Christ this way. They discover something missing, and then find it. No matter how people come in to the church or come back to the church, it’s wonderful to see.

Second, it’s cool that someone’s creative self-expression helped. I seriously doubt that Richard Dutcher, when he was writing the screenplay was thinking, “How can I bring someone back to the church with this movie.” If he had been thinking about that, he would have written a very different movie. Instead, he was merely looking inside himself and his own experiences and creating honest art from that.

And that honest art touched someone and helped him or her on the way.

Third, this story confirms something that I have believed for a long, long time. That a song, a book, a movie, a story can help change lives. Notice I said, “help”. I don’t think any one work of art is going to be the sole influence that makes the change. She calls the movie “the catalyst”. There was plenty of thought and struggle going on in her life already, and an atmosphere, if you will, of wanting change. Along comes a movie, or a song. It sparks a conversation, some heartfelt communication, and it triggers some choices.

Can art change lives? Yes. It can. But I have no illusions that it’s going to fix the world. It helps people solidify their beliefs. It helps them consider things they hadn’t before. It guides them to make choices. Hearing a song won’t change you, but it will help you be stronger as you change yourself.

Mark Hansen

Monday, January 26, 2004

The LDS Film Festival

I had a marvelous opportunity this last weekend to attend the 3rd LDS Film Festival, in Provo, UT. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

The first panel discussion was both humorous (though I don’t believe they intended it to be) and enlightening. It was about the past, present, and future of LDS film. It started out with each of the panelists making a short presentation (which mostly consisted of reading short academic papers), and then opening it up for questions and comments to all.

The first one talked about the history of mormons in movies. Most of what I got from this, aside from a good historical background, was the need for us to take charge of our own image in the movies. Too often we’re misrepresented or stereotyped.

A second presenter opened up my eyes and my mind. Which was kinda cool, considering all the pseudo-intellectual academia being presented there… She said that any time we have a spiritual experience in a movie, no matter who made it or who the intended audience was, that was a moment of “Mormon Cinema” at least in our own minds and hearts. And she encouraged us to go out and do that a lot.

She emphasized that film can be a spiritual journey, and can show the disparity between suffering and joy. Her presentation was very exciting and encouraging.

The third was a current film school student who said that we need to remove the “mormon-ness” of our films and take our message to the world, but then also said that we can’t rely on standard Hollywood clich├ęs to represent the religious moments of our stories. I wondered that if we tone down, or even out, the mormon-ness of the shows, there won’t be much to portray, with or without Hollywood tricks.

Other thoughts that were brought out: When watching a movie, use the ratings as a guide, but not rigid. Instead of just complaining of immorality, we should be celebrating morality. The simple absence of dirt doesn’t necessarily mean cleanliness or quality.

One of the panel said that critics play an important role in the development of a cinema scene such as ours. By pointing out the flaws they can push the filmmakers to better and better heights of quality.


I’m sorry, but that sounds like a lot of self-important hooey to me. We all know the name Picasso, but how many of us can remember the names of the art critics that panned his work? And how many times have we heard an award acceptance speech like this one: “I’d like to thank the Academy, and also a big thank you to all the critics that slammed my early works. Without your harsh words and nit-picking, I wouldn’t be half the director I am today. You guys are the real stars!”

Then, the HaleStorm guys did a session and what a breath of fresh air! They were light and friendly and open and told a lot of stories and advice about the world of LDS filmmaking. I always find a big difference in the comments of those that are observing something and those that are actually doing it.

I remember someone asked them how film school had prepared them for making their movies, and they both, almost simultaneously said, “Not at all!” Then they laughed.

There were more sessions, more screenings. I learned a lot. I met a lot of great people.

And that was really why I went!

Mark Hansen


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