Mitt Romney and the Mormon Film Renaissance

About four or five years ago, my wife, kids and I discovered the Mormon film industry. I had been looking at some property in Utah at the time, and, knowing little or nothing about the Latter-Day Saints, began to read a little about them. I started with Richard and Joan Ostling's excellent Mormon America, read Jon Krakauer's wildly unfair polemic Under the Banner of Heaven, and graduated to books like ex-Catholic priest Isaiah Bennett's Inside Mormonism. I eventually became fascinated by the whole historical saga, visiting the Salt Lake City temple and even reading the first volume of the nine-volume historical novel of Mormon origins, The Work and the Glory.

But nothing really illuminated LDS culture, for me, like their movies. Unbeknownst to many Americans, Mormons have their own flourishing film industry. Hollywood-trained but devout Mormon actors, directors and cinematographers set about making increasingly sophisticated films with explicitly Mormon themes — such as God's Army (2000) or Charly (2002) — or, more typically, "family films" that have LDS culture and church activities as sort of the general background. While some Evangelicals might dismiss these films as dangerous propaganda, I think it would be more fair to say that they are an attempt to portray Mormon society and culture the way Mormons themselves see it.

And I have to say:  My Catholic family loves many of these Mormon films. One of my wife's favorite movies is The RM (2003), a gentle comedy about a Returning (Mormon) Missionary who was promised all these blessings for his two-year sacrifice only to come home to discover his finacée has dumped him, his promised job has disappeared and BYU has turned him down flat. The film was produced by HaleStorm Entertainment, a pioneer of the burgeoning Mormon film industry that also produced family favorites like The Single's Ward, The Best Two Years, Mobsters and Mormons and the "mockumentary" Sons of Provo.

 One reason we like these movies is that we can relate to the quirky details: They're all about the weird logistics of big families, the frustrations of living a PG lifestyle in an NC-17 world, and the outright hostility of the secular world toward any belief that is unusual or not mainstream. Even my hard-boiled, somewhat cynical California teenagers laugh out loud at the antics of these relentlessly clean-cut, overtly family-oriented movies.

Bottom line:  If you want to know more about the culture from which Mitt Romney comes, go rent some Mormon movies at the local video store. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

If I had to pick one title to start with, I would probably choose Mobsters and Mormons. It's a light-hearted film about a New York mobster (Mark DeCarlo) whose entire family (wife and two kids) is relocated to Utah as part of the Witness Protection Program. The disconnect between the drinking, smoking, profane and often leering New Yorker and his nerdy Mormon neighbors in suburban Salt Lake City drives the comedic action. The film is a plea for inter-religious tolerance all around.

The New York mobster, naturally, is so blunt and insulting it's funny.  "I can understand giving up the booze and the smokes," he tells his next-door neighbors, who invite him over to their home for dinner. "But what you people really need to give up is the baked goods! I ain't never seen fat people like I've seen in Utah!" 

The LDS filmmakers no doubt decided to make their own movies to inspire and educate the members of their own church. But one side effect of these films that that they help non-Mormons better understand their neighbors.

From Mitt Romney to the clean-cut kids with white shirts and ties who knock on our doors, Mormons are an increasingly visible part of American society. We non-Mormons can be suspicious of them and their "weird" beliefs… or we can go rent The RM and laugh alongside them. You'll have a lot more fun doing the latter.

Robert Hutchinson

By

Robert Hutchinson studied philosophy as an undergraduate, moved to Israel to study Hebrew and earned an M.A. degree in Biblical studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible. He blogs at RobertHutchinson.com.

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  • Guest

    I'm very concerned about what you are saying here…the Mormon faith is a CULT, Mr. Hutchinson.  Maybe they have nice movies that make you feel good, but we are warned in the Scriptures against those who appear as doves, but are really serpents. 

     

    Catholic Exchange, for the very first time, I am INCREDIBLY disappointed that you have published and endorsed this article.

     

    –You have made us for yourself, O Lord; and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. — St. Augustine

  • Guest

    I had never heard of such a thing, but may check some of these movies out. Thanks for enlightening us.

  • Guest

    I have noticed that the TBN broadcast Christian television network has been showing quite a few Mormon-made films in the past year or so.  Perhaps, for their "family-friendly" content?

    If I recall correctly, there was an article here on Catholic Exchange a couple of years ago about Hindu-made films (from "Bollywood") which are often positive, moral, and family-friendly fare.  Wouldn't Mormon-made films fall into somewhat the same category?

  • Guest

    I am not aware of these Mormon films, but I have great appreciation for the Mormon commitment to making decent movies available to families.  We were members of Clean Flicks and Clean Films, rental clubs that made edited versions of popular movies available for rent or purchase.  We were able to enjoy many, many movies because of the efforts of those companies, and miss having those films available.  We now own a Clear Play DVD, which filters movie content to a lesser extent than the rental companies did, and I believe the Clear Play company is also located in Utah.  I'm grateful to the Mormons for supporting these greatly needed ministries, and consider it common ground between our two faiths.  We need all the allies we can get in the culture war, and I think that Evangelical Protestants and Mormons in many important matters are our allies.  It is important that we be prepared to answer questions and challenges from both groups so that our collaboration in fighting the culture war gives us a chance to bring them into the into the One True Church.

    As an aside, I do not know where Mormons stand on divorce and remarriage, but I would guess that they approve.  Feature Films for Families is also a Utah-based company that makes specially selected,  made-for-TV-quality movies available for purchase.  I decline to use that service, however, because so many of the films that they made available featured the remarriage of divorced parents, which I do not want to use as entertainment for my children.

  • Guest

    Suz slu, we have published plenty of articles critical of the Mormon religion. Whether it is still technically a cult or has become a world religion (a la Islam) is something experts are divided on.

    I think eveyone here has missed the most important question this should raise among Catholics.  I'll be interested to see if anyone hits on it.

  • Guest

    Why aren't Catholics doing their own films so we don't have to rely on Mormon films and the films that Hollywood puts out?  One reason is that the majority of Catholics choose to support Hollywood because we have become so ingrained within the culture instead of staying separated.

    When a film like Bella comes out we have to beg people to go see it. We have to have the Knights buy out the theater and pass out free tickets and to get them to do that they get a pass on other activities for the year from the Grand Knight. It is so sad American Catholics choose the culture instead of the Church. We use to produce our own films to use in Catholic schools but we have forgotten that and Garfield's Thanksgiving and Christmas have taken their place. I love Garfield but we need a little more substance than that.  

  • Guest

    Bingo.

  • Guest

    We have bought several movies for our 4 kids from Feature Films for Families. They're good and all have a moral to the story. My mother-in-law is a Mormon, and I can honestly say she is one of the most giving, loving people I know. We joke (behind her back of course) that she belongs to the "Mormonic Cult" but there is NO WAY you could label this woman a serpent. I always tell the kids that if Grandma was a Catholic, she'd be a saint! She would give her last dime to help anyone, and her Mormon parents were the same. They have some weird beliefs, but they are basically good, albeit misguided, people. I think that if they honestly searched for the truth, they would come to the Catholic faith.

  • Guest

    suz slu, I wish that more of our Catholics had the commitment to their faith that the Mormons do. Many of today's Catholic pastors don't seem ask much of their parishioners, and that's what many Catholics give.

    I don't blame the laity. We now have generations who have no Catholic education (Catholic school or CCD), and the American Church has never pushed adult education. Many Protestants attend "Sunday School" well into retirement age, and the Mormons two year commitment to missionary work should be an example to all of us.

    The renewal movements of the 70's showed promise, but they have dwindled due to nonsupport by Catholic clergy.

    I would suggest we deal with the "plank in our own eye" before we criticize other denominations.

  • Guest

    My  daughter is a freshman at a Catholic university, majoring in Theatre, History and Education.  Her boyfriend, at the same school, would like to get into filmmaking.  My concern as a mother is would they be able to raise a family and provide for them in that field?  Is it possible to make a living in the film industry without selling out to the popular culture?

    Momof11

  • Guest

    Or you could all buy and give Champions of Faith for Christmas… Why are we still having to beg Catholics to support that movie? So many people who have seen it ask when Champions of Faith Football edition will come out.  But unless CoF Baseball is successful, how do they expect there to be a sequel?

  • Guest

    You know, it's a good point. But then again, remember when Therese came out and it was bitterly attacked because the production values didn't live up to expectations of a few Catholic film critics (even though many of us layfolks thought it was gorgeous)?

    There are some great Catholic film companies out there, like Grassroots Films (http://www.grassrootsfilms.com) . . . how about we all take a minute to write our own dioceses to see if they can sponsor a screening of Grass Roots' latest?

    Oops, sorry Mary – I edited, so my post which was originally before her's is now after.

    Yeah, that's clearly a good suggestion, too. I should just order the dvd and know I'm giving at least one good Christmas gift!

  • Guest

    Soapbox Alert: 

    "I don't blame the laity. We now have generations who have no Catholic education (Catholic school or CCD), and the American Church has never pushed adult education."

    The "education" was there, it just wasn't very good in many cases, so far as solid content goes.  (I could tell you a story….)  This is, thankfully, now changing, but too late for those two generations you mention, if individuals from them don't take seriously their obligation to pursue authentic knowledge of the Faith for themselves.  (And, unfortunately, the "professionals" who got us into this mess are still very much a part of the catechetical scene in many dioceses.)  When Catholics are ignorant of their own religion, they are open to any "wind of doctrine" that blows their ways…in many cases, Mormonism.

    These two "lost" generations are now the parents/grandparents of the current generation of children, and most have no concept of the importance of good catechesis, what that catechesis is, nor the commitment to ensure that their kids/grandkids get it.  So far as adult education goes, EVERY catechetical Church document from both pope and bishops since at least Vatican II, and probably earlier, has emphasized the PRIORITY of adult formation–since adults are the teachers of our children and teens–but thus far, in most cases this sense of primacy has not found its way down to the parish level.  Although the primary focus on adults is Jesus's own model of evangelization, almost ALL parish support in terms of funding, staffing, and volunteering for faith formation goes for the catechesis of children first, teens second, and then, maybe, if anything is left over, for adult formation.  This allocation of resources is largely inverted from what should exist at the parish level.  Rather, a balanced budget giving ALL age groups needed resources, with adult formation receiving the most attention, is what is directed by our Church's pope and bishops.  Then, with that in place, the next big task is to convince busy Catholic adults that they, too, NEED continuing formation.  Far too many believe that "Confirmation is graduation," and that they don't need any more religious education after that…if they even care about Confirmation!  Feel like volunteering?  Now, you know where it is really needed!

  • Guest

    In address to techweck: 

    It appears that you, like many CATHOLICS IN AMERICA, are glorified “VICTIMS” that saturate themselves in BLAMING others for their lack of  or failure to take personal responsibility and refuse to see that the situation they are in (the Roman Catholic Church) is of their own doing when it comes to not knowing more about their Catholic faith / Church teachings.  Most Roman Catholics in the post Second Vatican II era are responsible for their laziness and ignorance! Not the priests or the lack of having programs available. 

     

    You may recall the 1960’s television sitcom series “The Beverly Hill Billies” – where the nephew “Jethro” was so proud of graduating from the 6th grade that he never went further in educating himself in High School, College (Universities), etc…  Most Roman Catholics are like him.  Once they have completed CCD or Religious Ed they think they know it all to be a good Christian (Roman Catholic) and are so involved with keeping up with the JONES and obtaining material goods than that of furthering their Catholic faith and knowledge – it's the last thing they want.  Then when confronted with other denominations about Bible, Scripture, etc… they go running and then are the first to blame the Church for their failures and lack of knowledge.  There are many programs and books, newsletters, etc. available to get to know more about the Catholic faith – but no one wants to do go the extra mile.  The old joke: “I don’t read the Bible because my priest does it for me” is the attitude many take and then blame priests, bishops, nuns (everyone except themselves).  They join cults and other churches and become hostile because the Catholic Church did not offer something to them that they initially did not care about or want.  But when they join these other churches they give 10% or more of their income for these programs and praise the minister and the church but when they were Roman Catholic all they wanted to do was to do the bare minimum.  “Let do our obligation”… they give $5.00 in the collection plate (if that), they say all the priest wants is money but they are the first to ask for a million dollar program from the priest and other members – selfish and ignorant attitude.  Go figure!.

     

    There are so many Catholic programs of service (foreign and domestic) and religious educational enhancement programs out there but Roman Catholics don’t want it because it means giving of TIME, TALENT and TREASURE. But when they become Protestant, Mormon or whatever the sky is the limit and "screw the priest and the Roman Church! 

     

    As for the clergy let's blame it all on them too… but the truth of the matter is that no one wants to step forward to become priests or religious anymore… and no it’s not because priests can’t marry (even other mainline Protestants are having problems of getting men and even women to come forward for service).  American Catholics don’t want to be uncomfortable and to be a priest or religious means giving up some of the things of this world so that all may be ONE WITH CHRIST JESUS… The Roman Church in America has to go to foreign countries to get men to serve and then the People of God complain that this man who has giving up family, home and comfort don't speak ENGLISH.  I ask, "Have you encouraged your sons or nephews or the young fellow next door to consider priesthood?" -  I doubt it!  No one steps forward… No one benefits for we all are focused on one thing… Blaming others for our ignorance and selfishness as well as the poor attitudes and lack of spirit within ourselves… Something the Church can't give.  So the World Wide Church of God (the Holy Roman Catholic Church) suffer as we blame priests, bishops and the Pope!

     

    Mormons as well as other denominations DEMAND you give a percentage of your income, but if the church's policy was that of demanding in stead of giving according to our means and then give a little more the Catholic Church would be still LOSERS because of the so-called People of God

     Your Vlogg is nothing but SPIN and fails to address this… it's a stab in the back of the Catholic Church but you need to take to heart your closing statement and then go out and do something about it…  I would suggest you deal with the "plank in our your eye" before we criticize the Roman Catholic Church in American and jump on the band wagon of other denominations.

  • Guest

    But do we need to be seeing always so many movies? It sounds like a serious addiction. The point of a movie like Therese is to be inspired to be like her in her love and devotion for Jesus, the Church, the Blessed Virgin and to live that devotion, as much as possible, in the same ways that she did. Most of you have read the book Story of a Soul, and will remember how she and her sisters were raised and with what discipline regarding appetites and desires and how she heroically forced herself to overcome certain weaknesses which we today run to embrace rather than run away from. It is so tempting to think that we are sanctifying our lives by watching lots of films about saints and saintly subjects or just Christian-like subjects. But we know that it is not right. The saints await to teach us what they knew if only we would give them half as much time as we devote to watching films! Take courage–there is no film and never will be that comes anywhere near the entertainment value of following the saints.

  • Guest

    claireoneill:

    I'm old enough to remember when Catholics had something called the "Legion of Decency" that did a very good job alerting Catholics to both bad and good movies. You knew if it rated a "C" you knew it was bad, bad, bad. (Many of what were called back then "Italian sex farces" fell into that category. That was something my ten-year-old mind could never figure out. Italians were supposed to be Catholic. What were they doing making "condemned" movies?). Today we have the problematic USCCB movie "reviews" that often point potential Catholic audiences in the wrong direction. (Did I hear someone say "Golden Compass?")

    It's a sad commentary when we find ourselves turning to Mormon-produced film fare to fill our entertainment hours for lack of anything better. Mormonism, on many theological issues, registers a big "9" on the "wierd you-know-what-o-meter" (an allusion to a famous line in the comedy "Men in Black") and one would hope that just because Catholics happen to agree with Mormons on moral issues that they also realize how far afield Mormons often are from even basic Christian orthodoxy. But then again, as faithful2christ points out, many haven't a clue as to what differentiates Mormonism from Catholicism (beyond the sensational polygamy controversy) because they are ignorant as the day is long as to what the Catholic Church teaches (the "who lost Catholicism" debate really belongs in another thread IMO).

  • Guest

    "Why aren't Catholics doing their own films  "

    Catholics? We contracept like everyone else, live together outside of marriage, divorce at about 50% like main stream culture, think women ought to be priests, maybe go to church on Sunday and do not know the teachings of our faith. I believe LA times did a poll a couple years ago where they discovered that only 1/3 of church going Catholics understood transubstantiation and the eucharist. Our numbers may be large but they mean nothing. And you expect Catholics to make films? Catholics do not know what it means to be one. Look at Pelossi, Giuliani , Kerry, etc. who represent many Catholics that are sitting next to you at mass.

     

    Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to God's Mercy. Kent C. Bois

  • Guest

    As a former Mormon missionary who has converted to Catholicism, I second the comments of "techwreck" regarding the need for a Catholic "Sunday School" and Claire O'Neill's comments regarding the desperate need for more quality Catholic filmmaking.

    Mormon theology is heretical, no question, but there's also no question that Mormons are good, misguided people and we can learn so much from their commitment. Catholics are no where near as committed because they aren't educated in the beauty, history and traditions of our faith. We have priests and religious educators who, unfortunately, do not educate people on the distinctives of our faith. I have been frustated so many times when I have read the scriptures for the day and all the great opportunity they provide to explain the Catholic faith, but then the priest or deacon does not even preach on the day's scripture.

    Mormons and evangelicals provide continual adult education with classes between services. That  produces commitment which, in turn, would provide greater zeal and, in turn, people who produce movies like the Mormons have.

    Gene in Boise 

     

  • Guest

    ok,

    so I can agree with those who dispute the tenets of mormonism – no problem.  We are faithful Catholics who love Pope Benedict and the Latin Mass.  the first "mormon movie" we saw was "Baptists at Our Barbecue" because the title was hysterical, considering my husband was raised baptist.  We watched the movie, able to laugh at ourselves AND the mormons.  My family enjoys the mormon movies mainly because it is mormons poking fun at themselves!  How many of us can do that without our pride all wounded?  On the other hand, not all mormon movies are comedies, but they are the only ones we watch.  We don't watch any TV and only a few movies in our home – we enjoy the good, clean fun of the mormon movies.  (We also drove over 100 miles to see Bella when it was first released!  And we NEVER go to the movies!)  My suggestion: before some of you go so overboard, offended by 'mormon movies' – make sure you see one first – in private if it makes you feel safer!  If you want to see the Catholic version of "Baptists at our Barbecue", try "Mobsters and Mormons" – it's hysterical!  The Catholics (deep down) are good people and they do not convert!

  • Guest

    And I have to say: My Catholic family loves many of these Mormon films.

    I haven't seen any of these films, but there are a few observations I'd like to make:

    1. The Catholic Church teaches that even those who never come to know the full Truth of Jesus Christ nevertheless have access to divine Revelation in so much as Nature itself bears the mark of its Creator. Thus, salvation is eminently possible for those outside the Church should they follow this Natural Law to the best of their ability. I realize that the Church also teaches that the fullness of divine Revelation is not accessible to those who only know Jesus through the Natural Law, but this latter teaching is in full harmony with the former, and neither can properly be set up to be in contradiction to the other.
    2. Our own Church is chock full of people who knowingly reject Church doctrine, without having been brought up since childhood in a radically different tradition – except inasmuch as their contact with the Catholic faith has been molded by persons who have taught others to reject Truth.
    3. Salvation is not guaranteed to anyone in the Church. It is merely possible. Moreover, the Church teaches that the bar for salvation is higher for those who have access to the fullness of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition than for those who do not. Indeed, this final point has been used on more than one occasion to justify purposefully incomplete catechesis, with the idea that preserving ignorance lowers the bar for salvation for those who maintain their ignorance. Happily, the Church has always rejected these justifications as false, observing that Christ, as the Light of Truth, hides nothing that is necessary for salvation, and so neither should his Spouse, the Church.

    Given all of these considerations, it seems likely to me that many Mormons – who live their lives more in harmony with the Natural Law than most Catholics – have a greater chance at salvation through the God-Man (notwithstanding that their knowledge of Him is imperfect) than do many Catholics.

    Now, I only assert that this is likely, not that it is true, based on available evidence. Moreover, it strikes me that we Catholics have some amends to make if we really wish to meet Mormons in a debate founded on Reason Himself. It is insufficient to assert that Mormonism is a cult. It is, however, necessary to recognize where one people lives the Natural Law more effectively than we ourselves do. We might be more productive if we began our debates here instead.

    Too often, we Catholics allow ourselves to be self-satisfied that we are within the mainstream of modern U.S. society. Though I too recognize this as our current factual state, I am personally horrified that most of us (myself included before I became Catholic and as I have deepened my faith) choose harmony with Caesar above harmony with God, even as Caesar usurps those areas which lay outside his realm.

  • Guest

    Mkochan, we already have bingo (ahm). Now a Catholic comedy about bingo would be a big hit.

  • Guest

    I submit that William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" is a Catholic comedy.

  • Guest

    Mr. Hutchinson,

    While I think your point is well taken, you have obviously not been directly effected by the harmful effects of Mormonism.  We have.  Our Catholic raised and schooled teenaged son is currently serving a Mormon mission.  Maybe I'm still too emotionally attached to this issue, but I want to scream when well-meaning folks simply point to that squeeky clean and morally pure image as the face of Mormonism.  As if they are some harmless little sect with quirky beliefs.  I dare say people would change their tune if their own child was quite effectively abducted and brainwashed.

    That said however, I think I'll be checking out that RM movie you mentioned.
  • Guest

    Have you not heard of all the new movies at ignatius press?  Lots of saint movies like St. John Bosco, St. Rita, St. Patrick, St. Anthony, St. Francis, St.  Padre Pio, Pope Paul II, Xavier,  St. Joan of Arc plus many others that are remakes or orignals of family movies.  Another favorite is the movie, the jeweler's shop based on a play written by Pope John Paul II before he was ordained.  Our bible study ladies exchange and borrow from each other. We also have a awesome Catholic Religious store in our small town which feeds us all.   Of course Champions of Faith is also super.  Facing the Giants which came out a few years ago is inspiring as well.   Plus if you watch EWTN you will see fine family viewing.  go their website to order DVDs.  Not only are you supporting Catholic movies, you are teaching your children the faith.  Don't get that by watching Mormon movies.  We only have so much time here, let's not waste it on frivolous stuff. 

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