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A&E Blog

Sundance 2010: Prop Drama

by Scott Renshaw
- Posted // 2010-01-25 -

For the Sundance world premiere of 8: The Mormon Proposition, the stars didn’t have to come to Utah—because Utah was the star of the film.

The documentary focuses on the LDS Church’s orchestration of the campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California. Seventy-one percent of campaign funds came from Mormons in a state where the religion makes up two percent of the population. The screening included gay-rights superstars like San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter/Mormon-born Utahn Dustin Lance Black. A small rally accompanied the screening, but seemed somewhat pointless considering that the Racquet Club Theater is just about the worst visibility you could hope for in a Sundance screening.

The film played to an emotional audience that gave it two standing ovations. But that seemed inevitable given the crowd’s palpable emotional response to the subject matter, which hit home for many attendees who were practicing Mormons, ex-Mormons, homosexuals and/or friends and family of homosexuals. After the screening, Reed said he wasn’t surprised by the crowd’s emotional response. “It’s less about a belief in me than in the people and stories in the film,” he said.

The film is a rather damning indictment of the church’s part in the campaign. Internal church documents outline plans to campaign in Hawaii and California, with a focus on keeping a low profile while supplying as much funding and resources as possible. Church-supplied training videos show Mormons how to talk to their friends about the proposition, mainly by saying that if those Hollywood wackos say it’s OK, there must be something they aren’t telling us. Some interviewees even say that members of the leadership came to people’s houses to tell them how much they ought to donate.

With no official response from the church, the filmmakers attempt to fill-in its attitude toward gays through the most controversial elements of Utah’s LDS culture. This method yields a compendium of the state’s lightning-rod figures and events: Senator Chris Buttars, Gayle Ruzicka, the Main Street Plaza arrest and more.

Director Reed Cowan and co-director Steven Greenstreet—both former Mormons—introduced the film. At the introduction, both men became emotional as they expressed their hope that the film would reach people. Cowan told the story of how he grew up in Roosevelt, Utah, and was so ashamed of his homosexuality that he married and had a child, even though he could never make his wife fully happy. Greenstreet has lived in Salt Lake City for five years, and is best known for his documentary This Divided State, about Michael Moore’s controversial visit to Utah Valley State College in 2004.

While the film won’t change the minds of any die-hards who disagree that homosexuality isn’t a choice, it certainly lays out an unhealthy involvement of religion in electoral decision-making.

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