I know that this topic has been addressed in various ways before, but because it is so central to what we're trying to accomplish here, and because I was just reading something that really drove it home to me, I thought I would bring it up again.
In last year's special issue of BYU Studies, Mormons and Film, Eric Samuelsen makes an interesting observation near the end of his paper on competing business models in LDS cinema. It reads as follows:
But what has happened with the Mormon film movement is that, in the minds of many audience members, Mormon films have become a genre, and one they do not particularly care for. Consciously or not, Mormon films have become known as "regular movies, only with Mormons, and not as good." This has been particularly true of romantic comedies such as Pride and Prejudice and Baptists at Our Barbecue. These films look and feel like mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies. But without movie stars to drive them, without really distinguishing themselves meaninfully from the bigger-budget films they resemble, there is no particular reason for anyone to see them.
Contrast that with his equally interesting comments on Napoleon Dynamite. After calling the Mormon film movement a "subset of the American independent film movement," Samuelsen says the follwing:
Most independent films cannont afford famous movie stars, exotic CGI effects, and expensive stunts or action movie sequences. For an independent film to succed, the film itself has to be the star. Audience members have to be attracted to that film, usually because they have heard about it, heard that it is offbeat, unusual, that its story is not structured the way most traditional Hollywood narratives are structured, or because it is amusing or provocative in ways standard Hollywood films often are not. This is precisely the case with Napoleon Dynamite.... The film is clearly informed by an indie sensibility.... And so, to many LDS filmmakers, the idea that [it] could provide a model for other Mormon films seems confusing and troubling.
Perhaps the most interesting claim Samuelsen makes about this film is that "it can be argued that, in some ways, its outlook and approach are more directly informed by a thoughtful examination of Mormon culture than even the HaleStorm comedies."
What this reminds me most of is Trevor's assertion that there is a need for "directors who are willing, able, and proud to work within a small budget. All the more reason we need thoughtful, low-budget LDS producers."
I'm not arguing that Napoleon Dynamite should be the gold standard for all LDS cinema, but this article forced me to think about it in a way that I hadn't before, and that has been good for me.
Mainly, I wanted to throw these ideas of Samuelsen's out there for discussion. What do you think can be done to save LDS cinema from being thought of as "regular movies, only with Mormons, and not as good?"
Surely we, of all people, have an obligation to rise above that.