For heaven's sake: 'Angels' filmmaker says LDS movies can be positive and entertaining
There are those who feel the current wave of Mormon filmmaking has run its course that as a form of cinema, it's become stale, stagnant and irrelevant.
But Christian Vuissa begs to differ. The writer/director and founder of the LDS Film Festival says he believes that some of his fellow filmmakers are "lost sheep" who have "simply lost their way."
According to Vuissa, some of these filmmakers do well to remember the lessons of those who came before them. He added they should be producing feature-length works that will "better serve our audience."
"You cannot talk down to your viewers," he explained. "You have to believe that we are intelligent and that we can make up our own minds about matters of faith and religion. And you have to be honest."
The 38-year-old is even putting his money where his mouth is: His new film, "The Errand of Angels," a dramatic feature, opens in local theaters today.
"Errand" follows Rachel Taylor (television and voice actress Erin Chambers), a sister missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who finds her faith and her patience tested by trying circumstances in Austria, as well as with disagreeable mission "companions."
The movie is based on some of the mission experiences of first-time writer Heidi Johnson. She came to the Austrian-born Vuissa with stories she was trying to organize and compile. He was helping produce a comedy, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake," at the time but saw a lot of potential in Johnson's work.
"She came to me with these great tales of her mission exploits," he recalled, saying that he eventually saw that as a way to return to filmmaking.
"I just had to make sure that it wasn't episodic, that it wasn't just a series of scenes with no real direction," Vuissa said. "Once I got a handle on that, we were ready to go."
Vuissa and his 10-person crew shot the film in Austria in just 15 days and for "considerably less than $1 million." Needless to say, there were quite a few challenges.
"It was nerve-wracking and seat-of-our-pants filmmaking," he said. "We had just days to cast some of our bigger supporting roles. And very few of us spoke (Austrian German)."
Worse, he and cinematographer Brian Wilcox "were renting lighting and other equipment the day before the shoot was supposed to begin. We had no time to even do blocking or plan our shooting schedule," he said.
Still, he's proud of what he was able to accomplish. And he's already shown the film to quite a few preview crowds, including his own LDS Film Festival and the Thunderbird Film Festival in Cedar City, where it received the Best Picture Award.
Because of those experiences, he said he's convinced that "we really believe we have something special here, which is why people are reacting so positively to it."
When he's not making movies, Vuissa is busy running the LDS Film Festival, which wrapped up its seventh year in January. What began as a showcase for short-length film and video works now boasts nearly a dozen features each year, as well as packed houses.
"It makes me very proud and happy to see that our audiences and programming are growing all the time," he said.
Vuissa also finds inspiration in watching works of some of his fellow Latter-day Saints. "When I see some of the amazing people that ('Saints and Soldiers' filmmaker) Ryan Little gets to work on his movies, it makes me wonder why I can't do the same thing," he said with a laugh.
While he is busy promoting "The Errand of Angels" currently, Vuissa is also preparing to go into preproduction on a follow-up feature, "Father in Israel."
And he says the plan is for his production company, Mirror Films, to have at least one modestly budgeted movie in theaters a year."That might sound ambitious, but I'm convinced we have the right model to be successful and still say something that's both substantial and meaningful," Vuissa said.
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