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Contagious faith: Sundance documentary is about LDS conversion of former punk-rocker

PARK CITY — Many aspiring filmmakers search for years to find the perfect film story. But in the case of Greg Whiteley, it just fell in his lap.

Whiteley, a 1995 Brigham Young University graduate, is enjoying success at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with "New York Doll," a documentary about the former bass guitarist for the punk band New York Dolls, Arthur "Killer" Kane, and his conversion to the LDS Church.

Whiteley said he met Kane when he became his LDS home teacher in Southern California. "I wasn't that familiar with their music, but I was familiar with their reputation," Whiteley recalled. "All I could think of when I met him was, 'He's such a quiet man.' You'd never know, never believe, that this humble, soft-spoken guy used to be a cross-dressing, glue-sniffing glam-rocker.

"And at the same time, his faith in God was so obvious and evident that it was contagious,"

So, using a digital-video camera, the aspiring documentarian began interviewing Kane about his experiences back when he played in the short-lived, '70s-era band, which counted Iggy Pop and David Bowie as contemporaries. "I really wasn't sure this was going to turn into anything, but I kept hoping it would."

Whiteley added that the clincher came in early 2004, when Kane agreed to a musical reunion with the band's other two surviving members — singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. "It was what Arthur had been hoping for, deep down," Whiteley said. "He just wanted another chance to play his music, and he got it.

"That was when I knew I was supposed to tell this particular story — to make this movie."

Whiteley and his wife Erin say they've been blown away by the incredibly positive reactions so far; it's become one of the hot tickets at this year's festival. (Two screenings remain — this afternoon in Park City and Saturday in Salt Lake City.)

"I was sure it would do well with the 'home crowd,' " he said, "but it's been wonderful to see how well it's being received with everyone."

But then, Whiteley said he's surprised that the film got into the festival at all. "We submitted a shorter, rough-cut of the film that, frankly, I didn't think was very good at all."

Erin Whiteley said her husband was "holding his breath" during the process. "Our friends kept telling us, 'Well, if you don't get in at Sundance, there are other festivals,' " she said, "but we certainly weren't looking at it that way."

Once the Whiteleys got word they were in the festival, they began re-editing and shooting new interviews, wrapping work on the film days before the festival began. "I'm glad we made the effort," he said.

Originally, Whiteley wasn't able to film an interview with Morrissey — the organizer and featured performer of the festival that mounted the reunion. "He rarely does interviews, but his affection for Arthur and the Dolls was clear. He was incredibly gracious."

Whiteley also interviewed Boomtown Rats founder Bob Geldhof, Pretenders singer/songwriter Chrissie Hynde and Mick Jones from the Clash — some of his favorite musicians of the period, which he described as a "perk."

Ditto interviewing Kane's co-workers at the LDS Family History Center in Los Angeles. "We Latter-day Saints are thought of as very button-down, serious people, but these are very spiritual, but very funny and very genuine, people."

Whiteley relished the opportunity to show Kane and others as they really are — though it also made him a little nervous. "I knew I had to be careful. I was just thinking, 'Oh, Lord, don't let me mess this up.' "

Another nervous moment came when Kane actually reunited with Johansen. The two men had been holding a grudge against each other for nearly 30 years.

"I really didn't know how that was going to go down, but it sure was exciting," Whiteley said with a grin.

"It was an absolutely beautiful moment. It was one of those moments when I knew my film really was blessed."

Sadly, toward the end of the documentary, Kane is diagnosed with leukemia. He was not able to see the finished film, as he died before its completion.

If you go . . .What: "New York Doll," Sundance Film Festival

Where: Cinemark Holiday Village Cinemas, 1176 Park Ave., Park City

When: Today, 2:30 p.m.

How much: $10

Phone: 924-0882


Also: Saturday, 3:45 p.m., Broadway Centre, 111 E. Broadway