This year’s 8th annual LDS Film Festival at the SCERA Center for the Arts concluded a week ago on Saturday with an exciting and unexpected line up of new films that are changing the direction and expectations of the festival. This was my third year of active participation as a volunteer at the festival. I noticed that even though the festival played more low-key than it had in years past, the refining process is working its effect on the festival, and the quality of the content has improved.
This year’s 8th annual LDS Film Festival at the SCERA Center for the Arts concluded a week ago on Saturday with an exciting and unexpected line up of new films that are changing the direction and expectations of the festival. This was my third year of active participation as a volunteer at the festival. I noticed that even though the festival played more low-key than it had in years past, the refining process is working its effect on the festival, and the quality of the content has improved. Highlights from this year’s festival that I was personally able to view included Baby Boomerang, Father in Israel, and Once Upon a Summer.
Baby Boomerang is the work of an attorney who has spent the last 15 years trying to create a film about his father’s experiences in WWII. The faith promoting testimony of his aged father was effectively conveyed through what, on the surface, appeared to be a self-reflexive approach to film making. Yet, it was the self-reflexivity in this first-time filmmaker’s presentation that made this film ultimately an expression of gratitude towards his father.
Father in Israel screened for the second time Saturday afternoon. After generating strong buzz and very positive feedback from its opening night screening at the festival, Saturday’s showing became an encore performance. A comment from the opening night reveals how this film is positioning itself to literally change the direction of LDS Cinema. Attending at the invitation of a friend, one lady responded in saying that she thought all LDS movies were like Singles’ Ward and just made fun of the culture; this film is actually taking Mormonism seriously.
In deed, Christian Vuissa, the filmmaker behind Father in Israel, has opened the door for a whole new type of filimmaking in depicting the Mormon experience. His approach is pragmatic and practical, not overly dramatized, and without the least degree of ostentatiousness. In the Q&A that followed the second screening, Vuissa presented his focus and perspective in producing the film. Having the advantage of being a convert to the Church, he went on to explain that his films were made for members of the LDS Church with no attempt at being a cross-over film. Ironically, in his efforts to focus on a church audience, Vuissa seems to have created the first LDS film of recent years that easily crosses over in unapologetic fashion, allowing non-members to also be engaged in this cinematic experience. Only time will show how this film is received in its broader release.
Once Upon A Summer tells the story of two girl friends, called to face the challenges of adult life, who pause to reflect and draw strength from their colorful and defining childhood experiences. It honestly caught me off guard in a pleasing way. Where our market has been overly saturated with missionary films, this film spins the table and tells the story from the investigator/less active church member’s perspective. Missionaries are introduced about one third of the way through the film, and play a pivotal yet secondary role in the story’s plot. Where the film did have faults, the overall story was strong enough to merit its treatment and the near capacity crowd audience in the SCERA’s Grand Theater Saturday night.
These films, plus a host of other quality events, made for a pivotal and exciting year at the LDS Film Festival. If this year’s festival is any indication of things to come, the future of the LDS Cinema has never looked brighter than it does today.