1 of 2
Richard Dutcher

Members of the LDS Church did the Christian thing by turning the other cheek and refusing to let a San Diego protest turn ugly, according to Utah filmmaker Richard Dutcher.

More than 30 supporters of Dutcher's film "States of Grace" (released locally as "God's Army 2: States of Grace") — some of them from as far away as Utah and Texas — showed up in San Diego Wednesday to counter claims that the film features Mormon content and therefore is not Christian.

Most of those protesters opted to remain at a nearby hotel, while just a handful stood outside the Horton Plaza 14 Theaters, holding signs that bore such slogans as "Mormons are Christians too" as they tried to get their point across by peaceful means.

Dutcher urged them not to let things get out of hand. "Like it or not," Dutcher said by phone from his Mapleton home, "LDS beliefs are a very touchy subject, especially out of state. So this had the possibility of turning into something big and ugly.

"To me, that's inconsistent with the spirit of the film. So I asked them to see if they could counter the accusations about not being Christian by doing something that is Christian — by turning the other cheek."

The controversy stems from employees in the theater's ticket booth asking customers who purchased tickets to "States of Grace" about their religious beliefs.

According to protester Steven Greenstreet, patrons were asked if they were Christians and then "warned" that the movie is "Mormon, not Christian."

That upset a number of patrons who called and e-mailed friends who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including filmmaker Greenstreet (director of the controversial local documentary "This Divided State"), who flew to San Diego from Utah to participate.

"When I heard about it, I was offended," Greenstreet said by phone from Provo, shortly after returning home. "I mean, I think 'States of Grace' is the best Mormon film ever made. It was on my Top 10 list for last year."

Greenstreet equated the theater employees' questions to "asking someone who was going to see 'Brokeback Mountain' if they were gay. Or imagine asking someone seeing 'Fiddler on the Roof' if they're Jewish."

Greenstreet said that he and other protesters realized the truth in Dutcher's words, so they decided to drastically cut back their protest plans. "Besides," Greenstreet said, "I think we still got our point across. That's the important thing."

Both the manager of Horton Plaza 14 Theaters and officials from the Regal Cinemas chain declined to comment.

But Dutcher said he was assured by them that the "Christian" questioning has ceased. "It was just an ill-informed, ill-advised effort on the part of a few overzealous employees," Dutcher said. "And the theaters, for the most part, have been very supportive of the film."

In fact, the Horton Plaza 14 Theaters will be holding over "States of Grace" at least through next week, according to ticket Web site Fandango.com

"If nothing else," said Greenstreet, "maybe we've helped Richard drum up some more business for his movie. It definitely deserves to find a wider audience."

E-mail: [email protected]