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LDS films timid, Dutcher says

Panel of movie producers addresses retailers group

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SANDY — "I go into a movie looking for something to acknowledge my human condition, my brokenness," Richard Dutcher told an audience of LDS book and DVD sellers.

"I want the meat," he said; he doesn't think audiences relate to the perfect people they see portrayed in recent LDS movies.

Dutcher seemed to be addressing other producers of LDS movies, who sat with him on the panel, when he asked, "Why are we so timid now?" He also asked, "Where is Jesus Christ in our movies?"

Dutcher, who produced "God's Army," "Brigham City" and "States of Grace," spoke Tuesday at a convention of merchants called "LDS Booksellers University," held at the South Towne Exposition Center. He was joined on the panel by David Hunter of HaleStorm and Stone Five Studios, producer of "The Singles Ward," "The R.M." and "Mobsters and Mormons;" Brian Brough of Candlelight Media Group, producer of "Everything You Want" and the yet-to-be-released "Passage to Zarahemla"; Randy Davis of Excel Entertainment, marketing "The Other Side of Heaven" and "The Work and the Glory" and also writing the children's cartoons, "Junior's Giants"; Sonja and Craig Brooksby, of Lightstone Studios that produces the "Liken" series of live-action musicals; and Chris Heimerdinger, writer of "Passage to Zarahemla" and the "Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites" series.

The panelists took turns defining the focus of their movies and then addressing the quality of LDS movies in general. Hunter said his company just moved into new state-of-the-art facilities, featuring the largest stage in the Intermountain West. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints movie niche is a very small niche, he said. They are about to expand into a wide range of family friendly scripts that are not necessarily about LDS characters.

Brough agreed that the LDS market is so small it makes economics difficult and said they are always looking for LDS films that can "cross over," something along the lines of "Saints and Soldiers." He said his company distributes a wide range of secular titles, including "Pride and Prejudice" and "Anne of Green Gables."

When he took questions from the audience, he heard from several store owners who were offended by immodesty or language in something his company distributes. One man said he lives in Canada and feels his store represents the LDS Church. When customers see something questionable in a film, "They think it reflects on the church as a whole," he said. "That's the position you put us in as store owners."

Davis told merchants even a film that is several years old, like "Charley," still sells extremely well. A store owner in Colombia, Catalina Garcia, said she could sell many more Spanish subtitled movies if only she could get them. Davis explained subtitling is expensive. He added that some "mission-driven" movies, such as the first "Work and the Glory" and the Book of Mormon movies, were subtitled without regard to whether the costs could be recovered.

Sonja Brooksby said she prayed and fasted to find good family entertainment for her children. "We know people are searching," she said. Her husband added that their company will share the LDS testimony to the world.

Heimerdinger said he is not interested in "crossing over," even if it means he never wins an Academy Award. "I want to tell stories that celebrate our doctrine, and that's not going to cross over and I don't care," he said.

Dutcher was the most strident of the speakers. "You guys are in trouble," he told the booksellers. "Your market is shrinking. People are going to the Internet. Bookstores are closing all around the world."

"How are we going to solve these problems?" he asked. He recalled going to see Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," which was playing at the same theater as "The Best Two Years," a movie about a young man on an LDS mission. In "Passion," every frame was about Jesus Christ, Dutcher said.

"Much as I loved 'Best Two Years,' where was Jesus in that film?" He urged filmmakers and film buyers to look at film as art. To not say, "Oh there is no nudity, no violence, so this is a good movie.

"We need good stories, good acting . . ." Later, a woman in the audience stood and said, "We don't have to become part of the world to tell good stories. We can still show passion, anger, pain."

E-mail: susan@desnews.com