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Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Richard Dutcher is already bracing himself for a backlash over "Falling," which opens today.

Local filmmaker Richard Dutcher has never been one who plays it safe.

For example, he could have followed up his 2000 hit "God's Army" with a hasty, "feel-good" sequel. But when he finally did make a sequel — 2005's "States of Grace" — it was considerably edgier than the earlier, faith-promoting work.

But Dutcher insists that "States of Grace" was a natural progression in his filmmaking and storytelling.

"I really don't know why anyone would have expected anything other than that from me," he said from his Main Street Movie Company offices in Provo.

The film even sparked a few protests when the film was released in California, though much of that furor was generated by conservative Christian groups, not LDS audiences.

As divisive as "State of Grace" was, its controversies may pale in comparison to what is expected for his latest, "Falling," which opened today.

It's a drama/thriller about a free-lance news videographer and lapsed LDS Church member, Eric Boyle (played by Dutcher himself), who begins questioning his faith after a series of personal and professional crises.

The R-rated "Falling" is also Dutcher's "favorite" of the eight, feature-length films he's directed.

The obvious conclusion is that the film mirrors Dutcher's own personal and professional crises. He gained notoriety for his much-discussed, recent public writings about his decision to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He's also been very outspoken on other faith-related subjects — and has shown some disgust about being credited as the so-called "godfather of modern LDS cinema." (Dutcher has said he is "leaving Mormon filmmaking to the Mormons.")

But "Falling" was actually written around the same time as the first "God's Army," and he says that the story and script haven't changed much since then. And "Falling" even uses some footage that was shot for "God's Army," as flashbacks.

As different as the two films are, "both of them came from the same mind," Dutcher said, likening himself to singer Willie Nelson, who has performed songs about drinking and substance abuse as well as ones that discuss his faith in God.

"Human beings are a lot more complex than we're given credit for being," he said.

However, Dutcher is bracing himself for a "Falling" backlash. A screening during this summer's Sunstone Symposium did go well, in spite of "one guy who threatened my wife," he said.

In fact, "there were only four walkouts" Dutcher noted, joking that was "double my usual number."

Still, he is realistic about the film's chances of success, saying he does not anticipate "Falling" will be a big hit. (After all, in his words, it is an "intensely personal" film.) So, he's booked it into one local theater, the Megaplex 12 at the Gateway.

"It could wind up playing there for a week, or maybe it will be there for two months. Either way, I'm already pleased with it," he said.

Dutcher wants the movie to play the art-house, independent-film circuit. He plans to open it in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major metropolitan areas in the next couple of months.

He also submitted "Falling" to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, but the movie was rejected by programmers. Ironically, he's now opening the film opposite the festival.

"If we had gotten into Sundance, I could have had my two screenings there. But now my film will be playing seven times a day while the festival is going on. So take that!" he said, laughing.

Dutcher has also finished shooting on his next project — the supernatural horror film "Evil Angel," which stars Ving Rhames.

He said it is "much more commercial" than any of his previous films and expects that it will have a wider release than "Falling."

Once post-production work and editing is finished on the film, Dutcher plans to shop it around to studios, "or I'll just release it myself," he said.

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