LDS Film Festival 2012: Day 3

Notes from Day 3 of the 2012 LDS Film Festival:

The Last Eagle Scout

Written/Directed by: Kels Goodman

The Last Eagle Scout is the pet project for director Kels Goodman, who wrote (with Danna Tanner), produced, edited, and financed (with his dad) this film over the last eight years.  Set in an “alternate reality” US in 2012, Cliff Elliot (Nick Whitaker) is one of the few remaining Boy Scouts in the US, and is hurriedly working for his Eagle.  After a tragic accident (?) at scout camp, the government decrees the Boy Scouts of America must shut its doors forever, which leaves Cliff with a strict deadline to get his Eagle requirements finished and keep his promise to his dad before time runs out.

Not content with that basic premise, Goodman then kicks it up a notch by throwing in dark conspiracies at high levels of government, oppressive police squads enforcing political correctness, and an unknown terrorist who plants bombs in public restrooms.  After Cliff gets in trouble with the PC police for posting an American flag on public property, he finds himself on the run with his sister (Jaci Twiss from Rescued), using “The Last Eagle Scout” as his superhero / vigilante identity — standing up for Scouting when everything seems bleak.

The Last Eagle Scout is all over the place in terms of plot, characters, and political satire, and it’s all VERY hit-and-miss.  I’m pretty sure this will be the most divisive film coming out of the festival:  audiences will either consider Kels Goodman an insane genius speaking truth to power in an overly PC society…or a right-wing wacko who creates “straw men” about liberal philosophies and then mocks them in support of an outdated Scouting program.  Those in the middle may oscillate between those two opinions from scene to scene.  How you react to the film will largely depend on how you feel about the importance of Scouting (and right-wing ideology) in the first place.

(Full review forthcoming…there’s way too much going on here to cover in a brief blurb)

My Grade:  ???

The Measure of a Man

Written / Directed by:  Elizabeth Bailey Waite

The Measure of a Man is a dramatized biography of George P. Bailey, written and directed by his daughter Elizabeth (Lizzy).  His story starts during the Great Depression when he travels alone to California at the age of 15 to find success and happiness.  He marries his girlfriend Emogene when he is 19 and she is 14 (!) and they have nine kids together.  While never rich, they find happiness and contentment in day-to-day family life with their large posterity.

Elizabeth’s script doesn’t make the mistake of showing George as a saint; he was a disciplinarian who had strict ideas about how kids should behave (and enforced them with “the belt” and other measures that probably wouldn’t pass the parenting test today).  His kids love him, but often rebel against his rules in a passive-aggressive manner (pretending to be busy doing something “constructive” whenever he arrives home, for example).

George also has a strict view of gender roles, which causes conflict when the family has six boys and three girls and the chores aren’t divided evenly.  Emogene phrases her feelings (very carefully worded):  “We need more girls and fewer boys in the family” for tasks such as laundry and ironing, to which George responds “BOYS DON’T IRON!”  (I was reminded of the “BE A MAN:  IRON YOUR OWN SHIRT” General Conference talk from a few years back…)

The Measure of a Man doesn’t have a “plot” per se, just a random assortment of dramatized memories from Lizzy’s childhood.  And there isn’t any real drama — even when one of the kids gets run over by a car, it’s handled fairly peacefully.  Some of the anecdotes are amusing, but there’s still an underlying sense that the film doesn’t have anything profound to say about life or parenting.  We’re glad to see that George is a decent guy who loves his wife and his kids…however, is it significant or compelling enough to capture in a film?    It’s admirable that Elizabeth doesn’t whitewash the family record even in a film specifically devoted to the memory of her dad, but if George was just a decent guy who was a good father in some ways and not-so-good in others – basically the same as 90% of the other fathers out there – what’s the attraction for non-Bailey family members to learn about his life?  Is there a compelling message for those not in the Bailey family tree?

I’m not sure there is.  The Measure of a Man is pleasant and well-produced, but the lack of meaningful subtext hurt the film in my eyes.  I’m glad fathers like George exist, who take their responsibilities seriously and raise good-natured, well-adjusted kids.  But if it hadn’t been direct descendants of George driving the production of this film, would any studio have looked at it and said, “Wow, there’s a great story here!  We’ve got to get this into theaters…”?  I’m not sure George’s story has anything more compelling than any one of a hundred other family patriarchs we could find in recent US history.

My Grade:  B-

Two Brothers

Directed by:  Rick Stevenson

Two Brothers is part of a large-scale documentary project called 5000 Days, following groups of kids of all countries and social classes over a fifteen-year period.  This particular film follows two Mormon boys from Utah, Sam and Luke Nelson, from the time they are 10 and 8 respectively, to 20 and 22 today.  The director (coincidentally their uncle, but who interestingly is not LDS) follows the boys through high school and their missions (to Chile and Cambodia respectively).  Sam and Luke are normal kids, and part of the success of the documentary is just showing the “normal-ness” of their existence, including the day-to-day struggles common with everyone else their age.

Sam deals with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and depression in high school even when he’s popular and winning the election for Student Body President.  Later, as a missionary in Chile, he shares his struggles with the language and the food, but also his learning to love the people around him, especially after a devastating earthquake throws the lives of the locals into turmoil.

Luke has a goal to play football for BYU, and his family even transfers to a highly-ranked Catholic high school on the East Coast to provide a better showcase for his football ability.  He’s crushed when BYU doesn’t recruit him and he has to fight amongst 50 other hopefuls as a walk-on for the BYU football program.

The documentary isn’t ground-breaking, especially to LDS audiences who are already familiar with the unique elements of a Mormon lifestyle.  Still, the film is never boring, simply because we like Sam and Luke and can enjoy their successes (and empathize with their struggles) in each step of their lives.  The documentary could certainly serve as a good starting point for non-members to understand the LDS experience, but for LDS viewers it also provides a useful case study about how that LDS experience (especially the mission experience) affects LDS youth today.

My Grade:  B

  • cuervo

    Will you be reviewing the short films? I am just interested in some feedback on those films. I enjoy your site. Keep up the nice work.

  • Kevin Burtt

    I didn’t see any of the short films — my schedule was packed enough with the nine feature films (and writing and work) to fit anything else in. Although I hear that the short films are often the most creative and inspiring of the festival. Maybe next year for me.

  • http://reelmormonhousewife.blogspot.com Jessie Thomas

    I wish I could be there so bad. I really liked Two Brothers, I saw it on BYU TV a while back.

    Reel Mormon Housewife

  • Pingback: This Week in Mormon Literature, Feb. 10, 2012 | Dawning of a Brighter Day