About a year ago, when the 2008 presidential race was already reverberating with a strong religious undertone even before it began, Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson had an idea:
Why not make a film about it.
Hall and Donaldson are co-owners of Living Biography Studios, a Provo-based company that specializes in producing films about ordinary people's lives. It's a heartwarming, uplifting business that preserves granddad's wonderful life, but it's not exactly provocative and controversial.
This other project about religion and politics would take care of that.
First they took as their text the oft-quoted phrase in Article VI of the Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Next, to avoid any perception of bias, they assembled a team of producers and stakeholders representing virtually any religion you've ever heard of.
Then they set out across America to conduct interviews and do research.
The result is "Article VI," a full-length documentary about "Faith, Politics and America."
The film will have its public debut at screenings Monday in Newport Beach and Atlanta, followed by a Salt Lake showing Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Dumke Auditorium on the University of Utah campus.
More showings are scheduled later this month in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shreveport, La. After that, if demand goes according to plan, "Article VI" will be released at selected sites around the country. The DVD is also available online at www.article6themovie.com.
Whether they make a profit remains murky it's the film business, right? but for Hall and Donaldson, the trip they took making their movie has been well worth the price of admission.
"It's been an amazing journey," said Hall. "We've learned our own lessons."
Hall and Donaldson are Mormons, and they acknowledge that "clearly the questions Mitt Romney was facing about religion" after the former Massachusetts governor, and devout Mormon, announced his intention to run for the presidency provided the spark for the film.
But that was merely the starting point. Every candidate, they have discovered, brushes up alongside Article VI in one way or another.
"They all get the doctrinal frisk, so to speak," said Hall.
"What we've tried to do in this film is go over the history of why the Founders put that (Article VI) in in the first place and then give time to anyone with a fair argument in the debate," said Donaldson. "We hope to challenge preconceptions. But there is no agenda."
Points of view in the film run the faith gamut from Christian to Shaman to Muslim to Hindu to Judaism to everything in between. Obliquely or directly, all approach what Donaldson phrases as the fundamental question: "Would you go into the voting booth and vote, or not vote, for a candidate who shares your values but not your theology?"The question is at least as old as the Constitution itself but as current and you don't have to tell the film's directors this as next week's primary.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.