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Mormon Moviemaker: LDS Films Have Gotten 'Too Safe'

Mormon Moviemaker: LDS Films Have Gotten 'Too Safe'

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Richard Dutcher, the so-called "godfather of modern LDS cinema," has lately become one of the genre's harshest critics. And his criticisms even extend to his own work.

"No one else takes me to task quite like I do," Dutcher told the Deseret Morning News. "I'm never satisfied with anything, which may be why it takes me so long to get my movies done."

Dutcher appeared headed for Next Big Thing status after the success of his 2000 drama "God's Army." However, his follow-up films the 2001 mystery-thriller "Brigham City" and the 2005 "God's Army" sequel "States of Grace" did not fare as well.

Speaking from the Provo offices of his Main Street Movie Co., the 42-year-old filmmaker said both movies "did get good reviews, but apparently there weren't too many people outside of the critics who wanted to see them."

At one time he also planned to make a movie biography of Joseph Smith, with Val Kilmer playing the LDS Church founder. But the funding and support for that project collapsed. Since then, he's been distancing himself from the genre he helped popularize.

In the outspoken writer, director and actor's opinion, "Mormon cinema has gotten too safe for its own good. There's nothing new being said in these films, which is pretty sad. It's as if they're too afraid to upset the target audience."

Dutcher has been working on a couple of new film projects but has experienced a series of setbacks including a fire at his Mapleton offices last March.

Although he's been busy digging out, Dutcher says he is in the post-production process for "Falling," a drama that was shot around the same time as "States of Grace." Notoriously tightlipped about his movie's plots, Dutcher did reveal that one character in the film is a Latter-day Saint who questions some of his beliefs.

As controversial as that sounds, it's nothing compared to a horror-thriller he recently shot locally, which is titled "Evil Angel."

That film has also been subject to "all sorts of wild speculation," Dutcher said. "Apparently it's the movie that's going to get me thrown out of this state," he said with a laugh, referring to rumors that the film might get an NC-17 rating. "You never really know what the MPAA is going to do with ratings, but I think this one could go either way that means a PG-13 or R, not NC-17. I guess we'll see."

Still, at this point in his career, he isn't afraid to challenge audiences, especially those in Utah. "I've never really worried about that. At the end of the day, if I have a film that at least I can be happy with, well, I can live with that."

Dutcher's disappointment in LDS cinema hasn't prevented other filmmakers from trying to pick up the torch. This year has already brought the release of "Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-day Tale," which is in theaters now, and "The Dance," which opened Friday.

The latter film comes from actor-turned-producer Michael Flynn, who also spearheaded the well-regarded 2003 LDS missionary drama "The Best Two Years."

Flynn, who's been working in film for nearly 30 years, said he still believes there is an audience for "clean, uplifting movies," but audiences have become skeptical. "No one's really giving them what they want to see," the 59-year-old veteran said. "It all comes down to character and story. You have to have both things to be successful. You have to be smart."

"Smart," in Flynn's opinion, also means frugal. The modestly budgeted "Dance" was produced for less than $300,000. "You don't have to cut corners or make something that's cheap-looking. You just have to be realistic."

In addition to his acting career, Flynn operates Flynn-Daines Productions with McKay Daines, who directed "The Dance." Flynn said he met Daines at a Brigham Young University football game years ago, "and found we had a lot in common. We've got big plans for this company, and hopefully this movie will get us off to a good start."

Prolific filmmaker Kurt Hale tasted early success of his 2002 comedy "The Singles Ward." However, that success may have spoiled him, he said. And it's been disappointing for Hale to see each succeeding movie he has made come up with what he calls "diminishing returns."

"I think LDS films may have been tapped out," Hale said, "and we may have been a big contributor to that. Audiences may be willing to spend $8 to see a Hollywood blockbuster, but it's asking a lot to charge that much for one of our silly comedies."

His most recent effort was last year's sports spoof "Church Ball," which featured such name actors as Gary Coleman, Fred Willard and Clint Howard in the cast.

It was a "calculated risk," one that was supposed to create a film with wider appeal. In retrospect, the move may have backfired. "Our costs went up but our grosses didn't," Hale said.

Meantime, HaleStorm has released a couple of direct-to-video films, and both Hale and his partner, Dave Hunter, have been busy trying to secure funding for their Stone Five Studios production facility in Utah County.

Stone Five should open soon, and Hale is planning to continue making smaller films and to find ways to expand his audience. "It would probably be pretty easy for us to make 'The Singles Ward 2,' but believe it or not, we're a little more ambitious than that," he said with a laugh. "Of course, if we really thought we could duplicate the success of the first movie, who knows, maybe we'd seriously consider it."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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