Mormon Movie

My friend Xan Aranda, who works at Kartemquin Films in Chicago (The Interrupters, Hoop Dreams, etc., etc.). Her first film Andrew Bird: Fever Year premiered at the New York Film Festival last fall and has been racking up credentials in the festival circuit ever since. Now she’s working on an autobiographical doc called Mormon Movie about her family, faith, and old BYU films. The Kickstarter campaign just launched, and it’s well worth looking at and investing in.

Here’s Xan’s press release. You can watch her introductory video and a ten-minute assembly of what the finished film will feel like on the Kickstarter page.

Greetings from Chicago!
As you may know, for several years I’ve been working to develop a project inspired by religious educational films my mother starred in while a student at Brigham Young University during the 1960s.
Mormon Movie is now in production with Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams) and is an independent, feature-length documentary to be released in 2014.
Buzz for Mormon Movie grew strong over the winter and spring as I toured with my multi award-winning directorial debut, Andrew Bird: Fever Year – which premiered at Lincoln Center with the New York Film Festival last October.
We’ve just released a ten-minute “first look” work-in-progress sample for Mormon Movie. View it via our Kickstarter campaign, here:
A full year of production awaits, and we can’t move forward on Mormon Movie until fresh funding comes in.
Fundraising is going well! It’s extremely rare for a Kickstarter project to raise over 10% of its overall goal on Day One, but we did that yesterday.
But: Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” fundraising platform. Our $25k goal must be met by end of day September 28 – or walk away with nothing.
I hope you’d be willing to support the film in some way, whether as an advocate or backer. Excellent incentives are available, including tickets in ten cities to see the extraordinary Neko Case, download of the completed Mormon Movie, and gifts from O Olive Oil (the family business), among others.
Regardless of your participation, we hope you’ll send the best of vibes as we embark on this exploration of a long-lost land I left behind sixteen years ago.
Yours,
Xan

StoryCode’s transmedia Story Hack

I didn’t get a chance to post about it beforehand, but last weekend I participated in the first hackathon dedicated exclusively to narrative transmedia. You’ll soon be able to see all of the projects and presentations at http://storycode.org, and I wrote four “embedded” blog posts for Filmmaker magazine: One, Two, Three, and Four. Next up for them will be an article in the next print issue on new developments in distribution.

Dustin Lance Black’s ‘Virginia’ trailer

Five years ago would a major trailer start with “And there’s a Mormon boy in my closet?”

Also, I’m doing StoryCode’s transmedia hackathon this week and writing about it over at Filmmaker magazine. Fun stuff!

BYU’s ‘It Gets Better’ Videos

Facebook recently told me that BYU film students just won a whole mess of student Emmys, I believe a record amount for a single school; it’s great to see the progress there in the department (even with the departure of one of my mentors Eric Samuelsen) and it bodes well for the emerging corps of Mormon filmmakers coming through there now.

And today Facebook, with help from the Huffington Post, also told me that there’s a new body of Trevor Project films by and for homosexual students at BYU. These seem to be really authentic videos and a great compliment to other recent developments like the “I’m a Mormon” campaign–this really fills out the group portrait the Church-produced videos are painting. As with all things related to homosexuality and Mormonism (the anchor film’s copyright notice is in the film Far Between’s name) I hope these strengthen connections rather than putting up barriers. Watch it here or go to the YouTube page to see all the related videos.

Electrick Children at SXSW

Why have I not heard about this film? It’s Electrick Children, written and directed by first-timer Rebecca Thomas. I’m really excited for a couple reasons: first, it’s a film thoroughly infused with Mormon content, albeit fundamentalist Mormon content, that’s hitting the major festivals, first Berlin and now this week at SXSW. Second, it’s created by someone from a Mormon background, so it has the integrity of an insider’s view (and shows that a growing crop of ethnically Mormon writers and directors can hold their own with all the ethnically Mormon actors hitting it big out there). Third, it’s a magical realist tale, so even if it depends a lot on coming-of-age generic conventions it goes where no Mormon film has gone before but where some of the best Mormon fiction thrives (cowboy Jesus, anyone?). Fourth, it just looks like a really cool film, regardless of any of this Mormon stuff. I’m excited to see it, and even though I’m not in Austin I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for its New York opening.

Want some links? Here’s the official website, the IndieWire review, the Variety review, a Filmmaker magazine interview with Thomas (seen below), and the Screen Daily review.  Can’t wait to see the actual film!

 

Film review: Bonneville

This is a great little film from 2006, following imdb. I believe it’s the first feature by director Christopher Rowley, and he does a nice job. The tenor of the whole thing, to my eyes, is a quiet, unassuming, project, one that doesn’t put on a lot of airs but which still gives its stars weighty enough roles in what are otherwise rather cliche situations. It’s formulaic, I mean, but still eminently watchable and thoroughly enjoyable. Distributed by Fox (Searchlight?), it looks like it had an indie budget but adheres to Hollywood formulas. And in this case that’s fine.

The plot is a road movie about a recent widow (Jessica Lange) and her two friends (Kathy Bates and Joan Allen) as they travel from Idaho to southern California to attend her husband’s funeral, held by the adult daughter of his first marriage. Her dramatic conflict is between scattering her husband’s ashes in accordance with his wishes and offending her step-daughter, who has the power to throw her out of her house. Like all road movies it’s a journey of discovery as Lange comes to terms with her grief and learns to embrace life again, spreading bits of her husband’s remains in some of the most scenic places in the Great Basin. The film’s title, in fact, refers both to the prehistoric lake that once covered this entire region and, more specifically, the convertible that takes the women on their journey.

The filmmakers were not LDS but the main characters are. Two of them are identified as such in the finished film, while the DVD bonus features confirm that Lange’s character was intended as Mormon as well. The film’s treatment of Mormonism is one of the best things about it: it depicts these women as real characters, each with a different relationship to their faith, and it dispenses with stereotypes of close-minded, provincial, or thoughtlessly obedient adherents. Joan Allen’s character is the most faithful member of the trio–the others have no compunction drinking coffee, swearing, or pursuing men–and, as expected, the thrust of her character arch is in opening herself up to experiences like drinking coffee and gambling that have previously been denied her. That’s fairly formulaic and expected, but I give the film props for not having her lose her faith in any way in consequence. She remains a faithful, active Latter-day Saint to the end of the film, and a remarkably compassionate and tolerant one at that; she’s just now a more experienced Latter-day Saint. Her attempt to give a hitchhiker her personal copy of the Book of Mormon is really touching (in a quietly comic if slowly paced scene), and she gets a few good lines like “You guys don’t think I’m any fun, do you?” undercutting the potential stereotype.

So that was really refreshing after Heber Holiday. This is not a major film, and it has its problems, but with actresses like these there’s a lot going on under the surface and that carries the narrative through its expected plot points. It’s also emblematic of how the Church has been taken more seriously, and depicted with more nuance, since the 1980s. Such rounded Mormon characters were once a real anomaly, as in Wagon Master in 1950, but they’re now more common than the stereotypically puritan characters that used to populate the screen. I’m looking for a good name for this period in Mormon film history, and I think this depiction of rounded, flawed characters is the dominant characteristic of the past twenty years.

Only about ten Mormon films left to see until I’ve covered everything I want for the Mormon Cinema book! A light at the end of the ten-year-long tunnel. Anyone know how to get ahold of James Benning’s Deseret? I’m to the point where I’m going to just try  emailing him.

Film news at Dawning of a Brighter Day

That’s the official AML blog. You should just read the summary there, but it includes an update on the eternally-developing Ender’s Game film, which is now evidently cast (Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, etc.) and moving towards production (it’s an LDS movie in the same way Twilight is an LDS movie), and a link through to Kevin B.’s thoughts about the LDS Film Fest, which is finally happening now. Should be a lot to see for those who can get to Utah.

And if you haven’t heard, the biggest film news coming out of the Beehive state is the passing of indie veteran Bingham Ray, who suffered a series of strokes at Sundance and died at a hospital in Provo a few days ago. People at the festival, the media, and film bloggers have been remembering his legacy, such as this reminiscence by Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

Speaking of Filmmaker, the print magazine arrived in the mail this week, and there’s a good article about the Sundance darlings of 2011 and how they’ve fared over the past twelve months. Can provide an indication of things to come while we watch the acquisitions at this year’s fest.