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Feeling the force LDS Film Festival evolves into community of moviemakers

By Stephanie Moreton

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Jan. 24 2011 3:25 p.m. MST

An audience awaits the beginning of a screening at the 2008 LDS Film Festival.__Curt Doussett, Kirby Heyborne and Brittany Peltier star in "Midway to Heaven." The film is actor Michael Flynn's directorial debut.__Lindsay Farr and Dustin Harding star in "Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates," written, produced and directed by Christian Vuissa.__Festival founder Christian Vuissa.

Kjirsten Youngberg, Excel Entertainment Group, Lds Film Festival, Kjirsten Youngberg

OREM — No doubt about it, Mormon films have evolved over the past 10 years.

Moving beyond the standard Mormon-film genre, the LDS film community has evolved to become a real force in the film industry.

As it turns out, the evolution and success of LDS films over the past 10 years have direct correlation to the LDS Film Festival, held in Orem annually in January. Now in its 10th year, the festival has motivated and inspired Mormon filmmakers to create better and better films each year, according to the festival's directors.

The festival also serves as an indicator to where the LDS film industry is going.

"I've seen (the filmmakers) evolving, and (the films are) not just about Mormon doctrine — the characters just happen to be Mormon," actor Kirby Heyborn said. "It's mainstream film, and religion is a backdrop."

As the films have evolved, the festival has grown, and a strong LDS film community has formed, coming a long way from its origins in 2001.

"Ten years ago when we had our first festival, there were hardly any feature films made. We basically showed two short-film programs," said Austrian filmmaker Christian Vuissa, the festival's founder. "There were a handful of filmmakers, but overall there was not a real community."

Since its first event, the LDS Film Festival has screened approximately 200 feature films, 300 short films and 400 24-hour marathon films, with a total attendance of close to 40,000 viewers, Vuissa said.

Indeed, attendance at recent festivals has increased more than 10 times since 2001, according to Vuissa, passing more than 7,000 attendees in 2010.

"What we have in Utah is fairly unique," Vuissa said. "Outside of Los Angeles and New York, there's not really a community like us that makes films on a consistent basis."

This year, more than ever before, the festival will showcase a broad range of films. Vuissa pointed out some festival highlights:

"Midway to Heaven": A Mormon-star-studded adaptation of Dean Hughes' novel, the film is the directorial debut of actor and producer Michael Flynn ("The Best Two Years"). "Midway to Heaven" is the story of a widower (Curt Doussett, "Saints & Soldiers") who struggles with the thought of getting back in the dating game, especially when he has to keep his eye on his daughter's new boyfriend (Kirby Heyborne, "Saints & Soldiers," "The Best Two Years"). Also starring Michelle Money, who recently came into the spotlight following "The Bachelor" television show. This film will open the festival.

"Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates": Two years in the making, "Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates" details the life of Joseph Smith as he struggles to translate the Book of Mormon. Written, directed and produced by Vuissa, who described his movie as a labor of love.

"It's really kind of an intimate look at Joseph Smith before the church was founded; his struggle with the plates and publishing the Book of Mormon," Vuissa said. "The whole story (covers) his quest for salvation and that struggle before God (while Joseph was) a very young man."

"The Book of Life": The festival's first foreign film, "The Book of Life" was filmed in Italy and tells the story of a teacher searching for a love that he found before he was born. Directed by Italian comedian and filmmaker Marco Lui, "The Book of Life" explores the plan of salvation and its implications.

For both new and seasoned filmmakers, the festival presents opportunities to rub shoulders with people in the industry and learn from filmmaker presentations and forums.

"If you go to the LDS Film Festival, you can run into people like me. I read your script, and we have the means to make your script a reality," director Michael Flynn said. "You get to meet people who have done it or are doing it."

The festival is open to the public and not only gives a glimpse of what films are scheduled for release in 2011, but also an inside look at filmmaking and a chance to meet actors, directors, writers and producers during question-and-answer sessions after each screening.

"It's intriguing to see the inside — (to) ask filmmakers questions about the films. Also just to see what's been done in the community and what's coming out," Vuissa said. "People who come to the festival have an insight into 2011 film releases.

See the Show

What: LDS Film Festval

Where: SCERA Center for the Arts, 699 S. State, Orem

When: Jan. 26-29, times vary

How much: prices vary

Phone: 801-225-2787

Web: www.scera.org or www.ldsfilmfestival. com

e-mail: smoreton@desnews.com

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