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Looking back: Ten films show the best from 'Mormon Cinema'

Published October 5, 2012 12:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hollywood has never taken to Mormons the way it has with members of many other faiths.

Sure, there was "Brigham Young," the epic 1940 Western starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell as Mormon pioneers and Dean Jagger as the title character. But depictions like that were few and far between.

It took LDS filmmakers to get the ball rolling around the turn of the 21st century, with a wave of independently produced movies made by and for Mormons.

These filmmakers usually had miniscule budgets, and it showed in far too many cheap-looking and horribly acted movies. But some titles showed talent at work.

Here's a sampling of 10 good ones:

"God's Army" (2000) • The modern wave of "Mormon Cinema" started with this missionary drama, written and directed by Richard Dutcher — who starred as a driven LDS missionary showing a new missionary (Matthew A. Brown) the proselytizing ropes. Though Dutcher has since left the LDS Church, his passion for the faith then was evident in every frame.

"The Other Side of Heaven" (2001) • Gerald Molen, Steven Spielberg's longtime producer, was the driving force behind this drama, based on the memoir of LDS general authority John H. Groberg (played by Christopher Gorham), recounting his experiences as a young missionary in Tonga. The movie boasts beautiful tropical settings and the even more beautiful Anne Hathaway ("The Dark Knight Rises") in an early role as Groberg's girl back home.

"Out of Step" (2002) • This hidden little gem tells of a young dancer (Alison Akin Clark) trying to make it in New York — while also being courted by a nerdy fellow Mormon (Michael Buster) and a hunky non-Mormon (Jeremy Elliott). A solid directorial debut from Ryan Little ("Saints and Soldiers").

"The Best Two Years" (2003) • Writer-director Scott S. Anderson recalled his own experiences as a Mormon missionary in Holland. The comedy centers on a disillusioned missionary (K.C. Clyde), in the dumps when his girlfriend is stolen by his former mission companion, but whose faith is restored, thanks to an overeager new partner (Kirby Heyborne).

"Saints and Soldiers" (2003) • Director Ryan Little scores with this moving World War II drama, capturing not only the horrors of combat but also the spiritual soul-searching that men of faith make in time of war. (Fun fact: Jared and Jerusha Hess, the creators of "Napoleon Dynamite," worked as camera loaders.)

"Pride & Prejudice" (2003) • Jane Austen transfers to Brigham Young University, with five college roommates looking for the right match — all except for studious Elizabeth Bennet (Kam Haskin), who takes an instant dislike to businessman Will Darcy (Orlando Seale). Director Andrew Black proves Austen's work is a perennial that will bloom wherever it's planted.

"The Work and the Glory" (2004) • Car tycoon and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller bankrolled director Sterling Van Wagenen's lush adaptation of Gerald N. Lund's historical novels, tracing the early days of the LDS Church. Lovers of irony will note the casting of Brenda Strong, the beyond-the-grave narrator of "Desperate Housewives," as one of Joseph Smith's earliest followers.

"New York Doll" (2005) • What ever became of Arthur "Killer" Kane, bass player for the seminal glam-rock band The New York Dolls? After years of alcoholism, he found new life as a convert to the LDS Church, as chronicled in Greg Whiteley's engrossing documentary.

"Piccadilly Cowboy" (2007) • A Montana Mormon (Jaelan Petrie) gets a job in London, where he falls for a girl (Kate Foster-Barnes) but must find a potential spouse for her older sister (Sophie Shaw). Writer-director Trent Ford's comedy is charming, and the LDS message is applied gently.

"The Errand of Angels" (2008) • Director Christian Vuissa looks at the missionary experience from the sisters' side, as a perky young woman (Erin Chambers) begins her LDS mission in Austria. Chambers' warm performance elevates the story.