Missionary Positioning

Indie Mormon Cinema Attempts a Mainstream Conversion

HaleStorm's tiny budgets are raised in part through partnerships with other LDS-based companies, including Mormon dating websites and a company that sells V-chip-style software that removes family-unfriendly content from Hollywood films. "We have one more film that we shoot in June—Church Ball—and from there we'll take a year break and figure out how to crack the bigger nut," says HaleStorm producer Dave Hunter, grandson of an LDS president and prophet. "We plan to move up to non-Mormon films—clean, family-fare comedy stuff that plays to a larger audience."

Simpson says he too is "always looking for a crossover," citing My Big Fat Greek Wedding as an ideal. "Excel sees itself primarily as a company that tries to identify niches, a matchmaker between art and audience. Our biggest expertise is the LDS audience. But we're looking at applying that track record to other demographics." Crossing over is complex for LDS filmmakers, as the culture draws sensitive boundaries between itself and what Mormons call the "gentile" world. Lefler recalls that some thought that the depiction of a Church ritual in God's Army breached propriety. Much of HaleStorm's comedy springs from tweaking LDS cultural norms, thus sharply limiting their humor's audience.

Sweet Home Alabama screenwriter C. Jay Cox's directorial debut, Latter Days, takes on a more potent taboo—the Church's decidedly anti-gay stance (which also played a part in Angels in America). "Latter Days fits into the Mormon framework the same way that Kevin Smith's Dogma fits into Catholic films," says Cox, who was raised in a five-generations-LDS family in Nevada. In Cox's film, a devout Mormon meets an openly gay man while on mission in Los Angeles; both men experience their own awakenings, sexual and spiritual. Already, Cox reports that small towns in Utah are circulating petitions to ban his film. "There is this part of me that is still a gay, 19-year-old missionary," says Cox, who hopes that "just some of those kinds of kids could see this movie and realize, I'm going to be OK, I'm not going to go to hell—that there are alternatives to what they are being told."

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