Richard Dutcher, Mormon moviemaker

Published: Monday, Oct. 28 2002 12:17 p.m. MST

"You can't tell Mormon stories without telling specifics of Mormonism," he says. "I had no interest in making Mormon doctrine look just like any other Protestant religion. Why would I do that? Why not make it some other religion, like other Mormon filmmakers. There are tons of Mormon filmmakers who are telling Mormon stories and then take Mormonism out of it. It's cowardly and greedy. They do it because they think they'll make more money at it, but they're doing a disservice to their own people."

Though stung by the criticism, Dutcher says the response has been mostly "positive." He says he received "a ton of response" about "God's Army;" many people wrote to say the movie inspired them to serve missions or to be baptized. Dutcher says he even received "positive feedback" from an LDS general authority about "God's Army," "but I don't want to say any more. It's not for public consumption. It was a private conversation. I don't want to use that as a marketing ploy. But it would shut these people up."

This new mix of Mormonism and movies has proved touchy. Dutcher was even taken to task by some Mormons for violence in the murder mystery "Brigham City," although the actual violence was not even shown on camera. Others were offended that he showed missionaries playing practical jokes on one another and acting, well, like 19-year-old boys, never mind that Dutcher served a mission (in Mexico) and wrote the script based on personal experiences.

That notwithstanding, Dutcher is just getting warmed up. "I will stick with the Mormon themes until they stop making money," he says. "And if that happened, I'd move on to make money, so I could make some more of them. If I had the money, I'd make movies till I ran out of money."

Dutcher has aspired to make movies since he was a young teen, but it has been a long and winding road to reach that point. He spent his early years in Mount Vernon, Ill. His father, Lyle Hill, was a truck driver, meatpacker and bartender. He also was, in Dutcher's words, an alcoholic and a womanizer who came home "loud and rowdy" after his binges. He remembers visiting his father at his bar, riding his tricycle between the tables and playing pinball while his father worked.

"The first seven years were pretty grim," says Dutcher. "We lived in tiny houses, there was no money; Mom worked and Dad was gone all the time. In one of our houses you could see the dirt through the holes in the floor."

Dutcher's parents divorced when he was 6. "He went his way, and I didn't see him again till I was 23," he says. "I tried. I didn't harbor ill feelings. He had problems with alcoholism, and those were the reasons the marriage fell apart. It was good to meet him and talk to him, but it's hard when you've grown up without a father and learned to do without him. It's hard to create a relationship. We talk every couple of years, but there's not a lot to talk about except the Cubs."

His mother remarried a man named Harold Dutcher about a year later. He was a businessman whose knack for failed businesses kept the family on the move in search of a new start. From Illinois they went to Wisconsin, Kentucky and then Utah, just in time for Dutcher to begin his sophomore year at Hillcrest High.

It wasn't until years later that Dutcher learned his stepfather carried a dark secret. He was convicted of molesting a young girl shortly after Dutcher returned from his church mission. Later, other similar cases came to light. Harold is in prison, scheduled to be released in 2007.

"I get a phone call every now and then (from his stepfather)," says Dutcher. "He saw 'God's Army.' He liked it."

And how did his father react to the pedophile father who is mentioned in the movie? "He never mentioned it. I never mentioned it. I was interested to see how he would react to it, because I was very forthright about it in the movie."

Harold's one legacy is his religion. Dutcher and his family converted from the Pentecostal faith to Harold's LDS faith. "The first time I attended an LDS meeting I remember immediately liking it," says Dutcher. It wasn't until he was 14 that Dutcher says he was truly converted through an experience he would later recount through the African-American missionary in "God's Army." The family was visiting Mormon historical sites in Illinois, and he had been praying for months to know if the church was true.

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