Just as July means parades in Utah, January means film festivals.
That’s how Christian Vuissa, founder and president of the LDS Film Festival, explains how his event — marking its 12th year next week in Orem — just happens to butt up against the bigger Sundance Film Festival a few miles away in Park City.
“It’s a good time of the year to run the festival,” Vuissa said over the phone this week. “It seemed to be like festival season in the state. People are tuning in on festivals.”
The LDS Film Festival, which runs Wednesday through Saturday, Jan. 23-26, at the SCERA Theatre in Orem, started back in the fall of 2001, when “we had a few short films,” Vuissa said. “There was not really a community of filmmakers.”
That was just about the time the boomlet for a genre that came to be labeled as Mormon Cinema started, with films such as Richard Dutcher’s “God’s Army” and Kurt Hale’s “The Singles Ward” making a splash in local theaters.
The festival rode that wave of popularity, which crested around 2005 or 2006 — when the genre was damaged by a string of movies that even good Mormons would look back and consider pretty lousy. (There were exceptions, of course, such as Ryan Little’s “Saints & Soldiers” and Vuissa’s “The Errand of Angels.”)
The festival has endured through the boom and bust times, which Vuissa said “is still an indication that there’s a lot of stuff going on” with LDS filmmakers.
Indeed, some of this year’s films are locally produced films that enjoyed brief theatrical runs in Utah — such as the holiday drama “Christmas Oranges,” the (mildly) scary “The Mine,” the extreme-sport documentary “Nitro Circus” and the dude comedy “Chick Magnets.”
But there are plenty of films that will be new to Utah audiences, Vuissa said.
One highlight (in fact, the opening-night film on Wednesday) is the Australian drama “The Playbook.” It tells of a basketball coach trying to reconnect with his estranged son — until a tragedy causes the family to begin to unravel, leaving it to the son’s basketball team to respark the father’s spiritual worthiness.
Another intriguing film is “95ers: Echoes,” a science-fiction drama by director Tom Durham, in which a woman who can turn back time slightly finds herself embroiled in a paranormal mystery.
Some returning filmmakers are also on the bill. Loki Mulholland, who made the mock-documentary “Believe,” has directed a true documentary, “An Ordinary Hero,” about his mother’s work as a civil-rights activist. Veteran filmmaker T.C. Christensen will show clips from his upcoming historical drama “Ephraim’s Rescue.” Another Utah stalwart, Craig Clyde, will screen “Heaven’s Door,” an inspirational drama with the festival’s most A-list cast: Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark”), Charisma Carpenter (“Buffy,” “Angel”) and Joanna Cassidy (“Blade Runner,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”).
For some fans, the festival’s highlight is the 24-Hour Filmmaking Marathon, which begins Friday, Jan. 18, with teams attempting to write, shoot and edit a short film in a day.
“I love that kind of spontaneous filmmaking,” Vuissa said, noting that past entries have played at the Slamdance Film Festival, Sundance’s scruffy rival in Park City.
Vuissa stresses that the LDS Film Festival is called that mostly because the people who make the films are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not because the movie’s messages are overtly Mormon.
“It’s not the ‘Deseret Book Film Festival,’ ” Vuissa joked. (Not that Vuissa has anything against the LDS-owned bookstore chain, which sells some of his movies.) “The message, if it’s not in there, that’s part of the discussion. You can still discuss why didn’t the filmmaker make that film.”
The festival, Vuissa said, “is a venue for LDS filmmakers, first of all. It’s the one time of year where we can come together to see what’s happening in the community.”
Sean P. Meanswrites The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another film festival
P The LDS Film Festival returns for its 12th year.
When • Screenings Wednesday through Saturday, Jan. 23-26; with the 24-Hour Filmmaking Marathon beginning today.
Where • SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State St., Orem.
Information • Go to www.ldsfilmfestival.com.