Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Happened, Richard?

I can remember a long time ago, when there was no “Mormon Cinema”. There were movies being made by church members, it’s true, but they somehow escaped that label (except the ones the Church itself made).

Then one day I heard about “God’s Army”. At first I was nervous, even skeptical. I went to the website of the production company, “Zion Films”, and was reassured by some of the text there. The filmmaker (Richard Dutcher, though I didn’t know who that was at the time) said something to the effect that he wanted is testimony to “pour from every frame of (his) movies”. I remember that line stood out to me. It showed me that someone wanted to make movies about Mormon life and LDS experience. I was very excited, because I’d encountered many in the LDS arts community who tried to hide their church membership, couch their testimonies in innuendo and inside references, rather than proclaim the gospel as the trump of an angel.

So, Mormon Cinema was born. Soon others joined in and many movies were made.

I like to hang out on a ‘net group of people interested in following LDS film. The sad thing to me is that (contrary to the overall camaraderie I sense in the LDS music world) those in the LDS film world seem to delight in snarky backbiting and petty slander rather than support and encouragement.

Dutcher himself joined in, referring in some public speeches to the LDS film world as a pool that other filmmakers had peed in.

Then, I read this interview in Christianity Today, and I read quotes like this:

“…Because of that film, States of Grace, Dutcher has been shunned by the LDS church. He also says that many other recent "Mormon films" are so bad, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the label.”

The interviewer asked about his diverse religious background, saying: “But you ended up settling in the Mormon church?”

Dutcher: My wife and kids predominantly attend the LDS church, but I'm so busy that I'm really not active in that community any more. I travel so much, and I find myself just choosing whatever service appeals to me that week. When I'm in Burbank, I attend a Catholic church. And I've recently noticed a Greek Orthodox church across the street, so I'll probably hit that too.”

When asked about “States of Grace” being promoted as a sequel to “God’s Army”, he responded:

“Actually, it kind of backfired on us, because a strange thing has happened in the Mormon community over the past five years. When God's Army came out [in 2000], it created a little "Mormon cinema movement." Before God's Army, there hadn't been many films by and about Mormons; after that, there was a flood of really crappy movies. But I didn't realize that, because I'd away from the Mormon community for a few years while making other movies. When we came back, we didn't realize that the reputation for Mormon film had sunk to such a level that by calling a film God's Army 2, it was almost a bad thing because people thought, Oh no, another Mormon movie, because they'd been burned so many times.”

“My idea of Mormon cinema would be films that take a deep, probing look into Mormonism—its history, doctrine, contemporary life, to explore things that were pretty much untapped. But that's certainly not what Mormon cinema became. It became something so much more superficial and meaningless.”


“…I think the Mormon community just doesn't have reverence or respect for art. It certainly doesn't understand film as an art form. So there's a big educational curve that has to take place before the Mormon community will start taking film seriously.”

But I was most surprised by his answers to these questions:

“I have a hard time now even when people ask me, "Are you Mormon?" I don't know how to answer that anymore, because although the answer is technically "yes," I know what those people have in their minds and the kind of box they put me in. It's almost like you have to sit down and say, "Okay, well, let's talk about what that means to you." It's like a giant philosophical discussion.”

Do you believe the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, like the Bible?”

Dutcher: “You're not supposed to ask me that!”

“That's not on your approved list of questions?”

Dutcher: [Laughing.] “That's right. I've gone through a real evolution in my religious views and in my faith over the past four years, so I'm reluctant to get too far into that. I could give an answer which is accurate, and yet the ramifications of that would be misinterpreted. Does that make any sense? Do you know what I'm getting at?”

“Yeah, it sounds like you don't want to answer the question.”

Dutcher: “Well, uhh, I guess I don't have a problem answering it, but it needs to be a pretty long answer. Let's just say that my religious views are much more universal than one would expect from someone raised … I'm starting to sound like a politician now. But I don't believe that Mormons have any special claim to God. I don't believe that Mormonism has any special doorway to heaven.”

I guess he’s come a long way from pouring his testimony.

To me, it all comes across as artistic arrogance. I’m sorry. I’ve only met the man once. I shouldn’t judge his personal character. On the other hand, I get a bit miffed when he calls me a philistine and turns his back on me. I paid to see his movies, and I’ve loved every one of them. I also liked the movies that “ruined it for him”. I was able to look past the production and see the fun in them. I was able to accept the effort and delight in the creativity. And just because they didn’t all fall in behind him and make movies that were his kind of good (and frankly none of them, including his, have been all that well promoted – but that’s not the reason they failed, of course) he’s now rejected the community, and it seems, his beliefs.

Well, sorry, Richard, but I’m not taking the blame for you.


Mark Hansen


  1. Yeah, that's too bad. His religious beliefs, whatever they are, are his own personal thing, so I can't really comment on that, but I think this is definitely B.S. - “…I think the Mormon community just doesn't have reverence or respect for art. It certainly doesn't understand film as an art form. So there's a big educational curve that has to take place before the Mormon community will start taking film seriously.”

    Mormons understand film as an art form just as much as anyone, and don't understand it just as much as anyone... But they are certainly no worse as a whole than any other group. There are definitely plenty of esthetes in Mormon culture. But as far as filmmakers, that may be another story... there are many Mormon opportunists making movies because they might make money from them, and only few making what would be considered really artistic films. But then again, look at what comes out in films in general and there's probably about the same percentage of really arty films compared to all of the other stuff.

    Sorry Richard, but you're sounding like a snooty snob. IMO, if there was a mistake with how the public perceived "States of Grace", thus leading to its poor box office, it was probably because it wasn't specifically called "God's Army 2". Yes, people have been burned by some Mormon cinema, but "God's Army" is one thing that still has very positive name recognition. And sorry again, Richard, but for me, "Brigham City" wasn't some sublimely great artistic film. It had some moments, but it was largely just a more boring episode of C.S.I. Yeah, I know, I just must not "get it"... Nah, I got it just fine. Just didn't like it much. So your own track record isn't perfect, either, Mr. Auteur.

  2. Thats a real shame!

    I'm sorry that he is going through a crisis of faith. I've had my own times of questioning, so I can understand that.

    The shame is that I was hoping that he would be a real light in the entertainment industry, and show LDS people and lives for what they are, and for what we hope to become. God's Army was a step in that direction, I thought.

    I feel bad for anyone, moviemaker or not, who has lost that which is so precious, a testimony of the Restored Gospel.

    I saw Brigham City and found it too dark for my taste.

    When States of Grace came out, I read some of Dutcher's comments at the time about the state of LDS Cinema, and was a bit put off. We didn't see the film. Even then, I could sense that he was spiritually adrift.

    I just didn't know he had drifted that far - to the point that he is not sure he can even call himself a member of the church or not.

    I myself have been to that depth in my spiritual life. There is always hope that he may regain that which he has lost. The Lord was patient with me, and gently led me back to the fold again.

    Now I don't really care much about his movie-making one way or another. I'm more concerned for his own spiritual welfare. I just hope that he will find a spiritual reawakening, and find the peace that will come therefrom.

    "There's no place like home."



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