These aren't your average Sunday School movies.

Evolving from "God's Army" in 2000, Mormon film has changed dramatically over the past decade, no longer focusing solely on the LDS religion but instead on universal themes that reach broader audiences.

The latest LDS offering, "Midway to Heaven," is "not about the religion," director Michael Flynn said.

"It's about the people," said Flynn, who is making his directorial debut. "You see their religion reflected in the choices they make."

The film, which opens in theaters Feb. 4 and was screened at last week's LDS Film Festival, is an adaptation of Dean Hughes' novel by the same name. "Midway to Heaven" is the story of a widower, Ned, who is hesitant to get back into the dating game, especially when he has his daughter's boyfriend to keep an eye on.

Eventually, persuaded by his daughter, Ned realizes that "with love, there are always second chances."

By focusing on universal themes rather than Mormon doctrine, the film relates to a larger audience.

Indeed, it seems as though "Midway to Heaven" is an indicator of trends in LDS filmmaking.

"It's a mainstream film, and religion happens to be a backdrop," said Kirby Heyborne, who has appeared in several Mormon films and stars in "Midway to Heaven." "It's not your typical Mormon film.

"I've seen (LDS cinema) evolving — it's not just about Mormon doctrine. The films, the characters just happen to be Mormon."

Flynn and co-screenwriter Shelley Bingham Husk met with Hughes about three years ago to discuss developing a movie based on one of his books.

"The thing for me has always been, well, yeah, you can turn it into a movie, if you'll make it a good movie," Hughes said.

Filming along the Wasatch Front over a three-week period, Flynn emphasized the importance of telling a good story and of good character development, rather than concentrating solely on religion.

Flynn said that in order to compete with Hollywood films, Mormon films no longer rely solely on appealing to LDS audiences. LDS filmmakers have started to focus on themes that extend beyond the religion.

"Where we can compete is telling a good story," Flynn said. "Bottom line: Tell a good story, tell it well, and people will enjoy it."


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