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Saturday, February 5, 2011

LDS Film Project

I remember growing up during what came to be known as the "Golden Age" of LDS cinema. During this time LDS filmmakers made dozens of films about LDS people/subjects. It was a breath of fresh air to members of the church, who prior to this time had not been strongly represented in the film world. These films covered a wide variety of subjects/genres: romantic comedies, war stories, dramas, and a unique subgenre to LDS film, the missionary film.
These films raise many questions, but the most pressing it seems is, "What does it mean to be a Mormon?" According to Teryll Givens these films raise their dichotomies that are present in LDS culture. First is the struggle between "searching and certainty" (190). The ability to know for certainty is near the very heart of Latter Day Saint culture. However, many saints struggle with doubts that they have. The second is "the disintegration of sacred distance" (191). This is a struggle that members of the church have been scrutinized ever since Joseph Smith claimed to see God and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees as a fourteen-year-old boy. It is the belief that God "[made] man in [their] own image" (Gen 1:28). That man is the literal offspring of a Heavenly Father and therefore has the potential to be like Him, just a we have the potential to be like our father and our mother. Lastly, Givens states, that LDS film includes themes of "isolation and integration". There is a common saying in the church that members are supposed to be "in the world, but not off the world". Mormons still have the human need to fit in, to have friends, and to be accepted. However, they are exhorted to not partake in "worldly" practices.

Cinematic Transcendence

Cinematic transcendence includes, but it not limited to, films that assist individuals discover their relationship with God, their communities, and themselves. This definition has been developed through a variety of sources. First, that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God” (John 17:3). Second, that “Without question, the environment of our homes and families is the single greatest influence in our identity as individuals” (Monte J. Brough, “Search for Identity”, Ensign, May 1995). Also, Russell M Nelson also stated, “It is important to know who you are and who you may become. It is more important than what you do, vital as your work is” (Identity, Priority, and Blessings). If relationships help us to discover who we are and are the most important objective people can strive for then cinematic transcendence must include those themes.

This definition is crucial to my project because I am going to be looking at LDS cinema through the lens of identity. How does LDS cinema stack up to representing LDS people? Or how do LDS people identify with these films. The answer to these questions, according to my definition or cinematic transcendence, will state if these plays are transcendent or not.

The Project
I am going to watch the top ten grossing LDS films and analyze them on how well they represent the LDS community. Before I list which films made the list I feel it would be appropriate to define LDS cinema. My definition is borrowed from Eric Samuelsen (associate professor of theatre at BYU). He states LDS films are, [feature [films] made by an LDS [filmmakers], intended for theatrical release, dealing specifically with Mormon subject matter, and largely marketed to LDS audiences by a studio specifically created for the task of Mormon film distribution" (Samuelsen 216). These films (and their box office earnings) are

10. Charley
09. Brigham City
08. The RM
07. Best Two Years
06. The Single's Ward
05. Saints and Solders
04. The Book of Mormon Movie: The Journey
03. God's Army
02. The Work and The Glory
01. The Other Side of Heaven

The Process
I am going to start at with Charly and movie up the success ladder, watching about one a week (one week I will double up) and look at each film's representation of Mormons. I will then write and post about every film individually. At the end of the process I am going to write a post over viewing the process and create a list of common themes relating to identity in these films. I will include bibliographic information on a single post that will be updated as I find more articles and source the reference during the process. There will be a link to the post at the bottom of each blog post.


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