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OREM — LDS Film Festival founder Christian Vuissa said it several times during the 2008 event.

"There are more people in this room than attended the festival combined our first year," he said as he surveyed a packed house on Jan. 16 at the SCERA Center for the Arts.

The first festival drew fewer than 1,000 viewers, while the seventh-annual festival in 2008 ended with an attendance of more than 6,500. This is the third year the festival has been hosted at the SCERA facility, which offers two theaters and state-of-the-art projection equipment.

Ten full-length feature films such as "Forever Strong," "TAKE," "The Errand of Angels," "Emma Smith: My Story" and "Tears of a King: The Latter Days of Elvis" drew the largest audiences. Documentaries such as "Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons" and "The Off-Court Story of Kresimir Cosic" pulled in substantial audiences as well.

Question-and-answer opportunities as well as special presentations gave audience members access to filmmakers, actors and producers.

"The festival has proven again that LDS filmmaking is alive and well," Vuissa said. "We couldn't be more pleased with the program this year and the excellent films and presentations we were able to gather for a great festival. We are now already getting excited for next year."

The 2008 Pioneer Award recipient is Sterling Van Wagenen, who was the co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and founding executive of the Sundance Institute.

The 2008 Visionary Award went to Greg Whiteley, director of "New York Doll," for making an LDS film that strongly appeals to an LDS and general audience.

Awards in the short films competition included first place to "Der Ostwind," written and directed by Kohl Glass with visual effects by Rob Au; and second place to "The Lost Journal of Vice Marceaux" by JR Burningham. Third place went to "Butterflies" by Andy Bailey. A complete list of winners can be found at www.ldsfilmfestival.org.

Following are short reviews of some of the films presented at the festival. Full reviews for several, as noted below, are available online in the Arts & Entertainment section of deseretnews.com.

• "EMMA SMITH: MY STORY" — An important film that tells Emma Smith's story (most of it through her own written accounts), as wife to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The story begins with an aging Emma, played exquisitely by Patricia Place, as she recounts moments of her life with Joseph — the hardships, the lost children, the persecution and the extreme love and devotion.

• "FOREVER STRONG" — A movie based on the Highland High rugby team that takes the audience for a nice ride with strong characters and a compelling story. The filming is powerful. The music is sweeping and upbeat. There are also some good lessons here about drinking and driving, harboring hostility, and learning to forgive and "listen right." There's some nice humor worked in as well. (See review online.)

• "HAPPY VALLEY" — The film is neither happy nor is the story just about Utah County. This film covers the problem of increasing drug abuse in Utah. This documentary goes right to the underbelly of Utah's perceived "good life" and focuses on the increasing use of prescriptions and drugs in predominantly LDS communities. "Happy Valley" is emotionally charged.

• "HOLD THE DOOR" — This somewhat dark, perplexing film is based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," a tale of forgiveness between two young men, and is set in New York. A love triangle ensues between two young men and a beautiful, angst-ridden teen. One boyfriend is harsh and possessive, the other hesitant. A quiet, brooding film. (See review online.)

"NOBODY KNOWS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLACK MORMONS" — A compelling story that explores the history, the faith and the bigotry that has existed since the origin of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through a series of on-camera interviews with people like Martin Luther King III, jazz musician Paul Gill and attorney-bishop Keith Hamilton, along with historical accounts, the story makes one examine racial prejudice and mistaken perceptions about slavery, the black world and heaven. (See review online.)

"ONLY A STONECUTTER" — This film is based on the life of John Rowe Moyle, an early LDS pioneer whose story of faith and dedication revolves around his work on the Salt Lake Temple. He didn't have a way to get to Salt Lake City, so he walked 22 miles every week for more than 20 years. It's a simple story but well-told, well-acted and well-filmed. One can only hope it makes its way soon into church libraries.

• "TAKE" — This film captures the essence of how forgiveness frees the soul. The story line introduces the audience to a mom, a dad, a son and a gambling addict trying to find money to pay a debt. One moment of horrific terror leads to a day of execution. "Take" is a rich story without compromised standards or gratuitous scenes. (See review online.)

• "TEARS OF A KING: THE LATTER DAYS OF ELVIS — The filmmakers think Elvis Presley was getting ready for baptism into the LDS Church. Starring Elvis impersonator Matt Lewis, the film takes the viewer through the crossroads in the singer's life and choices he regretted. Presley had a copy of the Book of Mormon, in which he wrote comments. That copy is used in the film. (See review online.)

"THE ELEVENTH HOUR" — This dark film uses blood, guts and violence to tell the story of an ex-Navy SEAL captured during a raid to free Japanese prisoners from a North Korean prison camp. He endures torture for three years, then is released back into civilian life. The story of revenge is full of negative messages, fast-paced action and fights. Chase scenes, though dramatic, shake violently. The film contains minor profanity and one obscene hand gesture. (See review online.)

"THE ERRAND OF ANGELS" —This film tells the story of female LDS missionaries serving in Austria, following the story of Sister Rachel Taylor, played by Erin Chambers. All the conventions of missionary life are there — the high expectations coupled with low language skills that dovetail into cultural challenges. The film beautifully tells the story as Taylor writes of her adventures. She learns to love the food, the people and even her rough-edged companion. (See review online.)


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