I have no idea how many parts there will be to this series, but probably a lot. It should keep me busy for some time. So, to it!
The 8th annual LDS Film Festival concluded last Saturday at about 11:30 PM. The only exception to that is the script workshop, which is this weekend. Since I won't be attending that, I'm ready to start reviewing. I thought it would be appropriate, before delving into the specifics of what happened there, to offer some general observations about the festival this year that made my experience memorable. First and foremost for me was the difference from last year, specifically in how I felt while there.
Let me give you a bit of history. I've said often to my wife that going to the festival last year was the best thing I'd ever done for my career from a spiritual and professional perspective. The reasons for that are many, but I won't go into them here. It was at that festival that I first heard of this blog. I started following it and when Trevor asked for contributors a bit later, I jumped right in. My life has changed dramatically as a result.
So I might have been expecting a similarly inspirational experience this year. I got it, but not until the awards ceremony. Most of it came as I talked over the phone to my sweet wife on the drive home. And it was not at all what I was thinking of. Instead, most of this year's festival felt like what it was - a business conference. I've run A/V equipment at countless events for many companies and industries in the past five years. This festival was only different from those in that I had a personal stake in it. That made it more interesting, but not always more exciting. While it wasn't drudgery by any stretch of the imagination, I found myself thinking and feeling with less uncorked enthusiasm and more quiet staying power. It was a good feeling, but one that required a certain degree of tenacity.
One of the first things I noticed in looking over the schedule was that there seemed to be far fewer films this year that were built around a specifically LDS, spiritual theme. There were exceptions, of course, such as the flagship film, Christian Vuissa's Father in Israel. My biggest regret of the week is that I didn't get to see that one. There was also One Man's Treasure, (a missionary film), Mario's Conviction, (a film version of From Mobster to Mormon), and Dianatha's Crossing (set during the "invasion" of Salt Lake City by Johnston's army). But the majority of the feature-length films were either non-specific in their spirituality or simply secular. To be fair, several of the special screenings (too long to be competitive shorts, to short to be features) did have LDS content, and in rich supply.
Let me admit at this point that I didn't see most of the features and special screenings, since I was attending the filmmaker presentations. I did see some. But these are the impressions I got from looking and listening and talking to people. If I'm wrong, please correct me.
I also want to say that I think that's something I'll do differently next year. Although I was eager to hear the presentations, I don't think I got as much out of them this year as last. Maybe it was the subject matter, but I don't think so. I think next time I would like to see more of the work of my associates there, and hear less, if necessary, of their commentary.
Speaking of which, that was another difference: I had associates there. Last year, the only person I knew was Brandon Smith, who was the first director I ever screen acted for. He works on Christian's films now. This time, before I even walked in the door Thursday night, a member of my 24 hour film making group told me that someone was there who wanted to meet me. I was stunned. It turned out to be Brent Leavitt, who I've interacted with online, but never met until then. He does excellent work on his Sun Swing Studies, and was a volunteer that night. In fact, an intermittent conversation I had with him throughout Saturday was possibly the single most inspirational event of the weekend for me. I also had the opportunity to see Brandon again (always a nice thing) and meet and speak to people like Maclain Nelson (actor and executive producer), Christian Vuissa (filmmaker and festival founder), Russ Whitelock (composer), Arlen Card (composer), and others whose names I didn't get.
More genres were represented as well, from teen-mystery to political activism to high fantasy/adventure. The short films were as stunning in their variety as they were in their quality. They were easily my favorite. Even the 24 hour films, of which there were 41, including my first-ever festival entry, showed incredible talent, skill, and creativity. That's not a description of mine, by the way, which was among the dimmest candles of the evening.
All in all, I saw 65 of the 100+ films that screened there and attended 9 hours of presentations in less than three days. I think the most important thing about the festival is that it shows that film making in the LDS community is alive and well. People are producing, and they're producing quality films.
The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, as one professor of mine says, but Latter-day Saints in this field are showing their drive to be productive - even prolific - and to strive for the same progression in their art that they strive for in their souls. More thoughts on this will come out in subsequent posts, but I think I'm safe in saying that the gloom and doom predicted by some for the LDS film movement couldn't be less accurate. I think we're going through a period of introspection, experimentation, and maybe even captivity of sorts, but we will emerge stronger than before. Why do I think this? Because if the festival impacted others the way it did me, then LDS filmmakers are more determined than ever.