Mormonism in recent films & on stage

The story of the once forgotten LDS film Corianton may be familiar to many readers of A Motley Vision. The few who knew that the film had been made probably assumed that it had been lost until, as I understand it, Orson Scott Card found the only extant copy in his grandfather’s barn. I’m told that there are still other LDS films (and likely other works of literature) that have been lost completely–no known copies exist.

Recently I’ve come across news reports about a number of films and plays about Mormonism, a couple of which seem unlikely to catch the attention of even the few of us who notice these things. By the size of the audience that will see them, and the location where they were produced and shown, I suspect that they could also be lost, if they don’t catch the attention of archivists and specialists. I hope that by listing them here, their existence won’t be forgotten. Better still, perhaps some archivist will track them down before all copies are inadvertently destroyed.

Unlike books and music, drama and film are somewhat ephemeral. They can exist in just a few copies–those needed to produce the play once or display the film at an experimental or art-house theater or enter the film in a film festival. Even today, some playwrights and directors resist publishing their work in book form or on DVD or the Internet believing, justifiably, that such a move would ruin the opportunity to get distribution to multiple theaters or production at a national venue. If they don’t reach that level, and are never published for whatever reason, then the play or the film is very vulnerable to being lost. It then only takes the destruction of the handful of copies that exist for the work to disappear forever.

It is true that today’s technologies make this less likely. The number of venues has expanded, increasing the number of films that succeed (although competition for this success may even be more intense than it used to be). It is also much easier to make multiple copies and distribute them. But with the confusion in these new methods of distribution, how will archives find and obtain copies for preservation if the plays are not published or the film isn’t distributed on DVD?

If a Mormon-themed play is produced at the University of Alberta, will a copy of the play find its way into that University’s library? If it does, will it be accessible to students of Mormon Studies? Will BYU get a copy?

Or what if a Portuguese-language documentary about LDS missionaries is shown in Lisbon and in local film festivals in Portugal, but never makes it to DVD. How will academics who study Mormons in film know about it?

It seems to me that plays and films can still be lost. So let me mention the news items I’ve seen.

I should also note that I don’t know anything more about these works than what is in the news reports. I haven’t seen them and, in some cases, I don’t even know if they are anti-mormon or not. Any further information would be much appreciated.

  • Santos dos Últimos Dias, dir. by Leonor Noivo. Documentary, Portugal 2009. 45 min. IndieLisboa 2009 Film Festival. Terratreme. A documentary about LDS missionaries. (3:14 trailer)
  • The Sugar Bean Sisters by Nathan Sanders. Premeired Off-Broadway, WPA Theater, 1995. 75 productions to date. Author website. Most recent production in Long Beach, California, reviewed here. This “Southern Gothic comedy” follows the Nettles sisters attempt to escape spinsterhood and their home in a Florida swamp near Disney World. One of the sisters is evidently Mormon, and they get a visit from her bishop during the play.
  • Shaded Light: The History of Joseph Smith Jr. by Brendan Thompson. New Works Festival, University of Alberta, Timms Centre, 2011. Mentioned in article about the festival in the St. Albert Gazette. The information about the play suggests that the author is not Mormon.
  • Tabloid, dir. by Errol Morris. Documentary, 2010. 87 min. SXSW Film Festival 2011. Sarasota Film Festival, 2011. Sundance Film Festival, 2011. Reportedly submitted for Cannes. The film looks at the case of former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney, who followed her former fiancée when he left for England on an LDS mission, kidnapped him and raped him. See here, and here.

I must admit, that given the publicity at Sundance, many will know about the last film, Tabloid. But in case you didn’t”¦

23 thoughts on “Mormonism in recent films & on stage”

  1. Cool! These all sound fascinating. I’m particularly interested in “The Sugar Bean Sisters.”

    “Tabloid,” at least, probably doesn’t have to worry much about fading into irrecoverable obscurity–director Errol Morris is one of the most prominent and critically-acclaimed documentary filmmakers working today, and the film got (at least from what I remember) pretty positive reviews at festivals. At the moment, I think only one of Morris’ films (not counting “Tabloid”) is unavailable on home video. It’ll probably just take a little bit for distribution to roll out.

  2. .

    Here’s another:

    QUIRKY “MORMONS, MOTHERS AND MONSTERS” WILL GET BARRINGTON STAGE PREMIERE: “A quirky new comedy about a boy and his Mormon mother who smile their way through three shattering divorces. As he grows, the boy hides under the bed sheets, prays fervently and tries to figure out just who is responsible for his crappy, crappy life.”

    No idea whether any of the involved parties are LDS, but it’s not too late to get tickets. Premiers in July.

  3. .

    This song may come from the show. Very very musical theatery. And annoying for reasons beyond those directly related to its form.

    It does make me fairly certain no one involved is Mormon (or even exMormon), but I’m pretty confident that when I say it’s not very good I’m not just saying that because I’m annoyed at the text or because I’m not a big fan of musicals in general, but also because it’s just not very good.

  4. Thanks, Th. I do think its important to mention even the ones that aren’t very good.

    We learn from those that aren’t very good. If we forget them, I think we lose something.

  5. About a year ago, I was asked to participate in a documentary about Mormon missionaries in Estonia. Its name is “Kohtumine mormoonidega” or “Meet the Mormons.” The filmmakers, who are not Mormons, spent quite a lot of time researching Mormonism and interviewing missionaries and Church members. They approached me because they wanted to get the perspective of a returned missionary.

    The film isn’t anti-Mormon, but does ask some hard questions. It has a certain curiosity about it, kind of like, “these Americans are coming over and learning our language and trying to push their religion on us, but they seem nice enough so we don’t know what to do about them.” If anything, it suffers from a distrust of religion in general.

    The film is up on Vimeo at this link: http://vimeo.com/11432665.

  6. Fascinating that the marketing copy leads with his disfellowshipping. How many other playwrights even have their church status mentioned?

  7. I’m not quite sure that LaBute is pushing it himself. He may be, but it could also be that the journalist is googling him — I think finding out that LaBute has been disfellowshiped is easy.

  8. Oh, I don’t think LaBute is pushing it at all. It’s just interesting to me that it’s so much part of the narrative.

  9. .

    I’m really surprised that guy was raised Mormon based on the song I heard. I wonder how old he was when he stopped going. Ten?

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