A copyrighted story the Salt Lake Tribune published on April 23 and written by Sean Means was headlined “Richard Dutcher: Leaving his Mormon faith, staying with film.” It said, “Dutcher isn’t the only LDS artist who has found his Mormon faith at odds with his artistic expression, but the story of how he went from devotion to doubt is more jarring than most.”
But one of Dutcher’s producing partners has taken a different road. One that leads a little closer to the “iron rod”.
Dutcher is of course best known as the writer/producer/director and star of “God’s Army” the LDS missionary-themed movie that kick-started the whole LDS film genre in 2000. While making two later films, “States of Grace” and “Falling”, Richard says he suffered what he calls a “faith crisis” that led him to leave behind his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For most Latter-day Saints it’s a tragic tale indeed. And as the Tribune writer wrote in an earlier story, not an isolated one. On April 20 he wrote of other LDS artists who have left the fold to follow “other gods” (my words, not his) of artistic expression. These included Niel LaBute, Elna Baker and Brian Evanson. Then there’s Natasha Rambova, Heber C. Kimball’s great-granddaughter who left Utah as a teenager for the bright lights of New York and London and later married Rudolph Valentino and designed costumes and sets for Cecil B. DeMille. The LDS artist who achieves worldly success but sells his/her birthright (and soul?) for a mess of pottage is almost a clich.
But wait … As newscaster Paul Harvey used to say, here’s “the rest of the story”.
Richard Dutcher’s producing and financing partner in those two transitional films “States of Grace” and “Falling” was LDS producer and film financier Jeff Chamberlain. Jeff shared with Richard what he calls an “edgy sensibility”, or the desire to use film to tell stories with honesty and clarity without the “sugar coating” that some LDS artists feel have characterized many of the efforts in the genre.
Chamberlain believes his most recent film “The Mine” is an example of how basic principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be shared with a mass audience in a creative and entertaining way. “I believe that in a teenage suspense thriller movie we’ve been able to weave an allegorical tale depicting the values of personal responsibility and redemption,” he said in a recent interview.
Jeff said that his experience with Dutcher revealed “two producers with divergent philosophies.” In his opinion Dutcher seemed preoccupied with the fallen nature of mankind while ignoring the more purposeful climax of mankind’s story – the atonement of Jesus Christ and the redemption it brings in the lives of God’s children.
I have an intense personal interest in this story. As the founder and first president in 1977 of the Associated Latter-day Media Artists (ALMA), a worldwide fellowship of LDS media professionals, I continually encouraged our one thousand-plus members to examine the interface of their faith and their professions and to strive to “fulfill the measure of their creations” by using their God-given talents in positive ways that would please their Heavenly Father.
That’s what Jeff Chamberlain feels he is trying to do. “The Mine” is his own personal mission of sorts. On the surface it’s the story of five teenagers who dare to spend Halloween night in a “haunted” mine. “This kind of plot is one that teen horror movies love to exploit” he says. But with his film Jeff is trying to prove a point to the “Hollywood” establishment – that a movie can draw teenagers into theaters and entertain them without the sex, blood and gore and foul language typically found in such films. Instead “The Mine” relies on Hitchcock-style suspense to provide the scary adrenalin rush and keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
And beneath the surface (pun definitely intended) “The Mine” has a deeper message of taking responsibility for one’s actions and of personal redemption and love. A recent preview screening of the partially-completed movie for a teenage target audience in Heber City, Utah (where part of it was filmed) confirmed that the entertainment value and the message of the movie have both hit the mark.
“The Mine” opens on September 14 at the Megaplex theaters at Thanksgiving Point and The District. If audiences respond and fill these theaters, Jeff intends to expand to other area theaters in the following weeks leading up to Halloween. Given the enthusiastic response of critics so far, he hopes that people will come out and help make a statement to the Hollywood studios that it is possible to make a “clean” teenage suspense thriller movie that is financially successful.
Those interested can learn more by clicking on www.themine.info. The trailer for the film and video of audience reactions can also be seen at that website. In this “tale of two producers” Chamberlain hopes that even in “the worst of times” of a financial recession he’ll be able to entertain audiences and make it “the best of times” for them and for “The Mine”.