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.
In case you haven’t heard elsewhere, Marco Lui’s feature debute The Book of Life, the first Italian Mormon film, is now available online at Audience Alliance’s website. That bodes well for Audience Alliance as a distributor and not just a producer of “family films,” a label, even as a children’s television writer, that I’m never entirely comfortable with. And I’m even more excited to see films like this stop even trying for a theatrical run or even DVD and heading instead straight to the Internet–that’s where the future of Mormon film, as well as all indie film, lies, and that decision alone is as praiseworthy as anything in the film itself. Lui or his distributors have chosen to go with $5 for a download rather than a rental or streaming option, and this is the type of thing I’m interested in seeing Mormon filmmakers negotiate in the next two years.
No one’s saying this is the Mormon Citizen Kane, but I have heard comparisons of Lui’s full-body humor with Chaplin’s and the other silent comedians, and the film looks very charming and heartfelt–as well as funny. Good timing with the present enthusiasm for The Artist, though LDS audiences may be more aware of similarities with Saturday’s Warrior or Roberto Benigni. I’ll try to post my own thoughts soon.
Since I posted Stephen Colbert’s Catholic parody of the LDS Church’s current PR campaign a few days ago, I thought that for this week’s Mormon film I’d show a few Mormon commercials, of different stripes.
First is one of the Church’s real “I’m a Mormon” spots, one of my favorites because it’s of my friend Josh Maready and shows him skateboarding around our neighborhood in upper Manhattan, including, at around 1:06, right in front of our chapel, although you don’t see it. Josh is a brilliant photographer, by the way, and all around great guy.
Next is an old Homefront Jr. spot. These were a series of public service announcements in the late ’70s and 80s promoting values like honesty to youngsters. As a youngster myself when this came out, this is the one that I remember the best. The kid is Alfonso Ribeiro, who I best knew from Silver Spoons but who was also on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Good times.
How did the ball land in the yard? He must have tough drapes.
Third we have a legitimate Axe body wash commercial featuring a Mormon-esque protagonist. This reminded me of John-Charles Duffy’s recent article “Elders on the Big Screen: Film and the Globalized Circulation of Mormon Missionary Images” in the book Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen. In a nutshell he says that Mormon missionaries have become a visual type or trope standing in for virtually any type of religious caricature, even if the character isn’t necessarily LDS. But even the final text is laid out like the Church’s logo…
Fourth is the great Snickers commercial with Mr. T and Kirby Heyborne, star of many Mormon films. Great acting here too.
And last of all, the BYU library’s version of the recent popular Old Spice commercials.
Since when can you eat in the library? Man, things have changed.
Hope these have been fun!
Posted in Films about Mormons, Films by Mormons, Mormon Film of the Week, Online video
Tagged advertising, Alfonso Ribeiro, Axe body wash, commercials, Harold B. Lee Library, Homefront Jr., I'm a Mormon, John-Charles Duffy, Josh Maready, Kirby Heyborne, missionaries, Mr. T, Old Spice, Peculiar Portrayals, Snickers
No, Colbert is not a Mormon–that would be un-American. But he did give an analysis of the Church’s online “I’m a Mormon” videos on his show last night. He gives the Church and the campaign a thumbs-up, in his own Irish Catholic high-five-a-tiger kind of way. You can watch it full frame by clicking on the link here.
So that’s all in good fun and he’s kind of defending the Church in general against attacks against its otherness, but does he have a point about the ad campaign? Are the “I’m a Mormon” spots just as manufactured as the “less authentic” television and Internet ads they supplanted? Talking to people at Church AV and listening to presentations about them at the Mormon Media Studies Symposium last fall, I’ve seen people are thrilled about these ads for their immediacy and authenticity. But they’re still kind of a manufactured image of the Church, and if Stephen’s comments are any indication, people on the outside are still aware of this and still wary of propaganda from those Mormon people who are “weird.” I’m a big fan of these spots and think they’re light years ahead of previous efforts–I even want to jump in and produce some myself in coming months–but this might not be a battle that can be won; perhaps Mormons are barking up the wrong tree in producing any ads at all. Perhaps Mitt should do one! Thoughts?
Oh the busy-ness. Like I’ve mentioned I’m redoing my professional website, randyastle.com, and I’m working on all new samples for that, meaning primarily children’s television scripts, plus editing old unfinished videos, learning new software, updating my personal camera rig, just lots of stuff to make myself completely and totally marketable. I also just finished a short review of Tabloid, which may run in Dialogue but if not hopefully I can find it a home someplace like Sunstone or BYU Studies. That was a really fun film, if not entirely fair to everyone in it, including the Mormon community at large. If you can stand a few jabs at your fundamental beliefs it’s certainly worth watching, and everyone else should just go see it because it’s Errol Morris and it’s such an engaging film.
Anyway, I had an idea I wanted to try out, which is to post (i.e. link to) a new short film every week. Maybe it’ll last a long time, maybe it won’t. I’m going to start looking specifically for Mormon-themed films, because there are lots of resources out there for people who want to watch the best of short films in the mainstream arena. For instance, this week I started checking out Short of the Week, run and curated by 25 New Faces duo Andrew S. Allen and Jason Sondhi, whose own animation The Thomas Beale Cipher is visually arresting to say the very least–I didn’t have the patience to figure out all the hidden clues, but as a passive experience I certainly wanted it to be much longer, which is a complement. Anyway, there’s great stuff on the Short of the Week site–check it out.
So I’m going to do a Mormon Film of the Week, I guess, because I don’t think there’s anyone else out there curating Mormon-themed short films online. If there is let me know! This first one is from 2009, I think, and it’s Blessing by director Stephen Williams. I’m not going to say the premise because figuring it out is half the intrigue of the first roughly six minutes (although I do wish YouTube would give less away…). It then comes to a challenging conclusion, meant, I think, to promote dialogue amidst communities of faith, Mormon or otherwise, and those ostracized from them. That’s the purpose of great art: to raise questions, not give answers–which is what this film does.
A little while ago there was an interesting post and discussion on LDS Cinema Online about, well, online distribution of LDS films. It was actually about all distribution models, but online is the area I’m most interested in. You can check that out here.
Apropos, just now I saw that Melted Hearts: El Otro Lado del Corazon is available for online rental at http://pepun.com for $4 for 48 hours. You can watch that here. I think that’s a really good price point for any audience, but especially for one as notoriously stingy as Mormons. But I don’t know anything about the negotiations on the back end, what kind of deal the filmmakers got. Any thoughts? Is that too much? Too little? Anyone with insider information about that site in particular? Basically I’m really curious about what the general Mormon community would be willing to pay to rent a feature film over the Internet. What would you pay?
On a related note, I enjoyed reading about the blooming field of what you could call online fulfillment companies in Sheri Candler’s recent article for Microfilmmaker Magazine. The field’s always changing, but that’s definitely worth a read. Thanks again, Sheri!
The newest issue of Mormon Artist magazine (#15) is online and, as always, has some fantastic content on LDS artists in every field. I particularly liked the short documentary on Blaine Gale, organist at Ogden, Utah’s Organ Loft theater and a master at accompanying silent films. I met Blaine in 2006 when he accompanied the restored Trapped by the Mormons (1922) at the BYU library. His score is included on the DVD of that old film (produced by Richard Hale, who also appears in the short doc), and it’s a highlight of that disc; the whole thing’s so wonderful I pushed for the DVD’s producers, including Blaine, to be awarded a special award from the Association for Mormon Letters in 2006. Have a look at Blaine talking about his work, read the rest of the Mormon Artist issue, and buy the Trapped DVD too–it’s a classic of Mormon cinema and proceeds go to the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund, giving microcredit loans to people in developing nations.
In case you haven’t heard, this is the new announcement from Criterion. Initially there are over 150 titles available on Hulu Plus (note that’s the subscription service, not the regular site), with more on the way-plus special features and supplements. Some of the commenters are bummed that the classics of cinema are getting ever more compressed, both literally in terms of codecs and more figuratively in terms of screen size (a 4″ iPhone). But getting increased access to these is a major step, and I think it’s the next stage of evolution for Criterion, akin to their getting away from laserdiscs over a decade ago. My Netflix queue is a hundred some-odd titles long (halfway through LOL right now), but this development alone could certainly lure me to Hulu Plus as well.
Those who follow LDS film certainly won’t need me to tell them that the 10th LDS Film Festival opens today in Orem, Utah. It looks like a great line-up, so if you’re anywhere in the area please try to make some events.
I myself am not able to go, but I did send out a few posters–thanks to Christian Vuissa and especially Kels Goodman for the help getting those up, and James Ransom for all his Photoshop expertise. One of the resulting posters is now here on my sidebar; check it out at a larger size. Once again, the photographer was Natasha Brien and the actress Erin Colby.
My second poster was for my Mormon Cinema book, which is progressing steadily, and the third was for the LDS Filmmakers’ Network. We established that network last year on Ning but had to take it down when the Ning folks wanted to start charging. So the festival pushed me to get the network back up and running on BuddyPress; extremely big thanks go to Brent Leavitt and Stephen Winston for their help moving everything over, with the design, etc., etc. It’s not quite all finished, but it’s mostly there so check it out (and join!) at www.ldsfilmmakersnetwork.com.
The idea for this came from an article I wrote for BYU Studies about Mormon film on the web a few years ago, besides attempts at networking with LDS artists that I’d done earlier (pre-Facebook) in London and New York. In articulating the issues around Mormon film and the Internet for BYUS, I could see that one major underserved purpose was for networking; the network is therefore meant to help LDS filmmakers of all stripes and ages talk to each other–cast and crew films; get feedback on concepts, scripts, and rough cuts; create profiles and push their own work and skills; and talk, discuss, blog, and generally generate conversations about LDS film. We had some good activity on the original version, and I hope that with this more permanent incarnation membership and usership will grow. I’ve added several new groups representing new media and the changing landscape of film distribution, and I really hope this will be a useful tool–that five or six years from now we’ll see new high-quality films that came out of collaborations and discussions begun on the network. And it should be fun, too, so enjoy!
I posted my own photo of the new BYU Broadcasting building when I was in Utah in November, but now the doors are open and BYUB itself has produced a little video tour to show the facilities. Congratulations to everyone involved in it and I hope to see great things with the additional resources.
I haven’t been to the NFB’s website in a long time–a couple years at least–so this was really cool news for me. Not only can you watch dozens upon dozens of NFB films online, but they’re now available to see on your phone–here and here–as well (thanks to Gideon Burton for sending me the first link last week). This is really cool and could destroy my productivity for weeks. For instance, I’ve long wanted to see Colin Low’s first film, Corral (1954; seen above), a short doc that was filmed on the LDS Church ranch in southern Alberta. Low, by the way, is one of the greatest and most prolific filmmakers to ever come out of the Mormon tradition; his work’s pretty amazing and he’s pretty well represented on the site. But this is a treasure trove for everybody who likes documentaries and experimental films; it looks like all the old Unit B stuff is there, Norman McLaren, and a lot of other lesser-known but equally fantastic stuff (from what I’ve seen so far). Check out what I always describe as the most perfect film ever made (and hence one of my favorites), Richard Condie’s The Big Snit from 1985.