Editor’s note: Christian Vuissa was kind enough to take time out of a very busy schedule to provide a bio and do the following Q&A for AMV. ~Wm
Bio: A native of Austria, Christian Vuissa graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University’s Media Arts program in August 2002 and is considered one of the most connected filmmakers in the LDS film community.
He is the director of “Baptists at Our Barbecue” and the producer of “Pirates of the Great Salt Lake.” Vuissa’s other films The Letter Writer, The Reunion, Roots & Wings, Unfolding, and A Given have won over 20 awards at film festivals nationwide. His newest film “Diary of a Sister Missionary” (working title) will premiere at the LDS Film Festival (LDSFF) in January, 2008.
Vuissa founded the LDS Film Festival in 2001. The sixth festival was held in Orem, Utah, in January 2007, with an attendance of close to 5,000. He acts as the president of the festival and has a keen interest in helping young filmmakers succeed.
What is “The Reunion” about and why did you decide to make the film?
The Reunion is a follow-up short film to The Letter Writer. Both films are now available on DVD (through Deseret Book or www.mirrorfilms.com). I made these films for the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a monthly subscription DVD for spiritually minded people. The films have also played well with the LDS audience. In the film The Reunion, the main character, Sam, at the end of his life gets ready to meet his closest relatives for a big reunion. The Reunion captures the spirit of forgiveness and accountability.
Do you feel short films get overlooked in the Mormon market? The LDS Film Festival (LDSFF), which you organize, remedies that a bit, but is there more we all could be doing to support non-feature-length films?
Short films are overlooked in almost any market. The LDSFF will start publishing Best of LDSFF DVDs that offer short films from the 24-hour filmmaking marathon, the short film competition and the 7-page script competition. We hope that this will help promote short films within the LDS community.
Were you surprised by how well the LDSFF has been received? How deep is the pool of talent that you draw on (filmmakers, script writers, etc.)? It seems from the outside like there are a lot of young Mormons who are in to filmmaking.
The reason I started the festival in 2001 was because I saw a lot of talent around me in film school at BYU. Many of my peers at BYU have gone on to do great things. Jared Hess, for example. Or Ryan Little, who was the DP on my first short film. Or Andrew Black, Jason Faller, Ben Gourley, Ryan Arvay, and many others. But the festival quickly attracted filmmakers and audiences from all over the place. But it wasn’t overnight. The festival grew steadily from its humble beginnings and attracted more people each year. I hope this trend will continue… Additionally, the festival has motivated people to make films through its competitions, especially the 24-hour filmmaking marathon but also the short film competition. Many films were made because there was a deadline out there to meet.
There has been a lot of talk of late about the relative health of Mormon film, what directions it should/shouldn’t take, etc. How do you situate yourself in the world of Mormon film? What are you interested in creating? What kind of audience are you looking for?
My newest film “Diary of a Sister Missionary” is actually going to be an answer to these question. After the first few years of LDS film “prosperity,” we are now facing the realities of the market. That reality is that a film has to be produced for $200,000 or less in order to have a chance of financial return to the investors. Not many people will be attracted to that proposition, and poorer quality in films will be a result. With “Diary,” which cost only $170,000 to make and was entirely shot in Austria, I want to show that high quality can be produced for that money. I learned how to do it by directing and producing short films. I hope the film will set a new tone in LDS filmmaking.
What works — film or not, Mormon or secular — inspire and/or inform your own work?
The decision to make LDS-themed films is not a very popular thing, at least among the LDS filmmakers I know. But I belong to this community and feel a need and responsibility to contribute to this unique society. Living in Utah has been very inspiring for me, since I can observe cultural tendencies that I can evaluate in my films. Films that inspire me are usually personal stories told by people who are sincere about life and relationships. It has been said that it is better to tell an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie. For this community I think it’s best to tell G-rated truths. And I think that’s absolutely possible and essential.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently finishing up editing on “Diary.” After that I have another script with a similar tone ready to go. I want to get into the rhythm of directing a feature film and a short film every year. I also have plans for the LDSFF to become even more proactive in terms of producing films. For the last film festival, we have produced three short films with very talented filmmakers. We gave them $500 and they made incredible, high quality films that clearly reflect what’s possible. I think the work of the LDSFF will become more transparent in the next couple of years.