Two documentaries set at the intersection of the gay community and Utah’s Mormon-dominated culture will get big launches at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
The films — “Believer,” about Mormon rock star Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, and “Quiet Heroes,” profiling the only medical practice in Utah that would treat HIV/AIDS patients in the 1980s — will debut in the festival’s Documentary Premieres section, Sundance organizers announced Wednesday.
Sundance’s programmers praised both films.
“Believer” is “such a powerful, moving film,” said Trevor Groth, Sundance’s programming director. “I think this is one of those documentaries that can actually have an impact in the world.”
John Cooper, the festival’s director, said he was surprised by “Quiet Heroes.” “I reacted to this film because of the quietness of it,” he said. “I like films about heroes, and they presented the story well and beautifully.”
Don Argott, the director of “Believer,” said the project began when Reynolds wanted to make a documentary about characters on Fremont Street in Las Vegas, where Imagine Dragons has its home base.
“My thing for him from the get-go was this: Why do you want to do this? Why does the singer of Imagine Dragons want to talk to people on Fremont Street?” Argott said.
Reynolds, he said, opened up about his upbringing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his struggles with depression. Within two weeks, Argott said, the movie transformed into its current form, with Reynolds trying to reconcile his Mormon faith with his support for the LGBTQ community.
As a “pinnacle Mormon” who realized “a lot of his fan base was gay,” Reynolds “is caught in this really tough spot,” Argott said. “He doesn’t want to denounce his faith and his culture, but he can’t stand by and be seen as this bigot.”
Figuring prominently in Reynolds’ story, Argott said, is Tyler Glenn, lead singer for the band Neon Trees, which emerged from the same Provo music scene as Imagine Dragons. Glenn, who is gay and was raised Mormon, “was one of the first people [Dan] reached out to,” Argott said.
The movie culminates in the LoveLoud Festival, a rock concert held in August in Orem to raise money for LGBTQ groups, headlined by Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees. The LDS Church endorsed the event, praising the effort to address “teen safety and to express respect and love for all God’s children.” Glenn, at the time, called the endorsement a “PR move.”
In “Quiet Heroes,” Utah filmmakers Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga and Amanda Stoddard profile physician Kristen Ries and her longtime physician assistant, Maggie Snyder, who opened their practice to people who contracted HIV during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.
Ruga learned about Ries and Snyder when one of his law professors at the University of Utah was overseeing the medical team’s papers, which had been donated to the U.’s law library for a special collection.
“A special collection at a library, in this physical space, has limited reach,” Ruga said. “I asked, ‘Who’s making the documentary on this?’ [The professor] said, ‘That’s not our thing.’”
The movie details how Ries, an infectious-diseases physician, noticed a pattern of infections for something that was then still being called “gay-related immunity disorder” (GRID) or “gay cancer.”
“Nobody was interested in helping these patients,” said Ruga, 29, who is gay. As Ries and Snyder started taking AIDS patients, “word got out they were the go-to doctor team, and their entire caseload nearly became HIV patients.”
Ruga believes “Quiet Heroes,” though chronicling the 1980s, “is still a relevant story.”
“When the political scene is unpredictable and a little bit scary, we need these stories of hope and resilience.”
How to Sundance
When • Jan. 18-28
Where • Park City and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Passes and ticket packages • On sale at sundance.org/festivals.
Individual tickets • Go on sale starting Jan. 16; $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 18-23), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 24-28).
Information • sundance.org/festivals