8: The Mormon Proposition (Pre-Sundance Update)
This past May, I caught up with documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan, who didn’t shy away from answering some pointed (and personal) questions about 8: The Mormon Proposition. As the first NYU grad in my family’s six generations of Mormons, go figure that I’d be personally interested in both Mormonism and film (nevermind Mormons on film!). In other words, since that initial interview with Reed, I’ve been anxiously hoping that he’d keep me in the loop as the film progressed. After bugging Reed for an update, he’s now brought me up to speed:
CB: Since we last spoke, I’ve heard through the grapevine that a certain Dustin Lance Black provided the narration for 8:TMP, and Bruce Bastian is now on board as Executive Producer. How did that happen?RC: Dustin Lance Black is truly a treasure. Not only to the film world, where I’m certain he’ll go down in history as a Hollywood legend, but also for helping LGBT causes in the wake of his Oscar win for MILK. I first got to know Lance when I came in contact with a young girl whose high school project was rejected because she chose to do it on Harvey Milk. Knowing the girl is a huge fan of Dustin Lance Black, I contacted Lance to see if he would like to have her contact information to call her personally. I knew that would blow her mind and I wanted her bravery to be celebrated. He was immediate in responding and personally called to speak with the girl…which put her over the moon, of course. Since then, I’ve been submitting rough cuts of our film 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION to Lance hoping that he would be involved as our narrator. Last week while in the middle of production for WHAT’S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA (Executive Producer Gus Van Zant) which he wrote and is now directing, DLB green-lighted a voice-over session, and worked until almost midnight laying down the track.
He’s expressed great confidence in our film and we are working closely with him to make sure that each cut of the film rises to his approval and standards. On that note, I’ll tip my hat that I’m impressed with how careful he has been in making sure that any track he voices be truthful and respectful to all parties–even those who may disagree with the film’s content. He is a TRUE genius and professional. His tracks for the film sound great and I’m thrilled with his participation.
As for Bruce Bastian…he’s a hero. He became involved in our film after things got huge following Senator Buttars’ explosive interview. As the months have progressed he has moved from being a helper on the project to a full blown executive producer and I couldn’t be more thankful. To have the co-founder of Word Perfect and a major player with the HRC on board with our film is the stuff of fate.
CB: What about other technical aspects of the project? Does 8:TMP have a score? All apologies, but we’re talking documentary film here and you’re talking to a huge Errol Morris fan. Anything to report on that front?
RC: Indeed we do have a score and I’m thrilled to announce the debut of Nick Greer’s work in our film. Nick shared with me that he finished his bachelor’s work at Mormon owned BYU and then was near completion of his Masters in Composition there as well when campus henchmen learned he is gay and partnered. Nick tells me he was denied completion of his education and thrown out of BYU because of this. I think his beautiful score for 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION is a testament to the fact that he lived beyond the bigotry to create something powerful and beautiful.
CB: I’m assuming that bringing in this level of talent means that Sundance is now on the calendar for sure. If so, that’s great news, but what am I supposed to do about my reservations regarding spending travel dollars in Utah? And if I’m conflicted on this point (and I am), can I look forward to catching a screening in friendlier territory?
RC: Regarding your confidence that Sundance is in the bag for us…NO! Not at all! SUNDANCE is the brass ring and when you drop a film on their screeners nothing is a guarantee. I have seen many great films that did not make the cut at Sundance simply because there are only so many films they can choose each year. So, we’re submitting to Sundance and about twenty other big-name festivals and have our fingers and toes crossed. The film goes in the mail to all of them this week and we’ll just wait and see. Until then, we’re re-shooting and re-tooling some scenes in the movie to take it from a solid rough-cut stage to something close to perfection. As for screenings, after what we hope to be an amazing festival run, I’m reaching out to movie theaters all over the country to hold week-long screenings that will help benefit LGBT causes in the towns where the film screens. Sundance green-lighting our film WOULD really blow my hair back though. Can you imagine it? Things would really come home to roost, wouldn’t they?
CB: If Sundance were to get smart and pick this up, of course they would. That said, since the recent changes over at Sundance, I’m not qualified to comment on the chances. I hope they show it. And now I’m suddenly thinking of my own (huge) family reunion next year in Seattle. One of the biggest concessions that I feel I’ve won from my immediate Mormon family is that we’ve all agreed to be steadfast friends on our Facebook pages. It’s understood that we don’t sever our Facebook relationships over anything as trivial as the content we choose to post on our own pages. If family is important, it means weathering disagreement. That said, for some of my extended family, as Mormons, I think this all represents their first experience with boundaries and how such boundaries work in practice in a world outside the Mormon enclave. Along those lines, I wonder if you have experienced any personal fallout from making this film? I mean, my random online commentary is one thing, but to ask Mormon folks to sit down and face a message from the big screen that is diametrically opposed to their own views is something else altogether. Your family must know that’s coming. How’s that working out?
RC: Worry over what my film might say has really done a great deal of damage to my family relationships. I haven’t spoken to my mother or father for weeks now. They hung in there longer than my sisters did. But their dramatic reactions to my film and their difficulty supporting what I’m doing has finally wore thin to the point that we’re no longer speaking. I have two sisters. One sister told me Prop. 8 was God’s doing through his Mormon Prophet and that regardless of her ties to me, “If the prophet told me to cut off my arm and eat it, I would.” My other sister (who I thought was much more supportive) shocked and hurt me to the core when she called in as a guest on the Dr. Laura show to discuss things painful and personal about my film and my life, asking: “So how do I treat him?” I was amazed that Dr. Laura cut her call off and said: “YOU TREAT HIM LIKE HE’S YOUR BROTHER.” Needless to say, after that I haven’t spoken to my sister and I don’t plan to. The damage to my family has been deeply painful and I’d like to say to Mormon leaders who tout strong families: WHAT ABOUT MY FAMILY? DON’T YOU SEE THAT WHAT YOU DID HURT MY FAMILY AND THOUSANDS OF OTHER FAMILIES TOO?
The good thing is that during production for this film I adopted twin boys and became a father again!
CB: Hey, congrats! You’re in for good times. And speaking of good times, what to make of Bruce C. Hafen’s latest pronouncement? As far as I can tell, he’s never had any. This guy has now proven himself to be the latest in a long line of Mormon operators eager to scare the sheep into line for his own personal gain. Pity he spoke up too late to make an appearance in your film. Or did he?
RC: Well, he’s speaking for the church and his rants are in similitude with what others in the Mormon church have said for years. In essence he said “you can and should ‘fix’ your homosexuality” and bashed the scientific community who discourages such attempts to “cure homosexuality.” I’m also horrified at another Mormon big-wig (Holland) whose words ended up published in the Salt Lake Tribune recently, saying parents have “every right to exclude from [their] dwelling any behavior that offends the spirit of the Lord.” I’d like to take Hafen and Holland out of their gilded cages to go with me two stories underground in the dead of winter in Salt Lake City where Utah’s considerable gay homeless teen population lives in filth and squalor. I would like to show them the result of their teachings. Those kids told me their parents (following their leaders’ council) insisted they could “fix” their homosexuality if they tried hard enough and that their presence in their homes “offends the spirit of the Lord” and to get out. Those kids represent one of the most compelling portions of 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION toward the end of our film.
CB: Now I’m sorry to have brought Bruce into this. As much as I personally resent those, like Bruce, who seek to convince Mormons that they’re the only ones making personal sacrifices in all of this, my resentment is nothing compared to the reality of those living out-of-doors on account of Bruce’s ignorance. That said, only speaking for myself, I’m a straight (inactive) Mormon with a great family, someone who never bothered the LDS church after returning disillusioned from my Mormon mission twenty years ago. Love it or leave it? No problem. I left. Years ago. I knew I had my own life to live, and I was all for live and let live until Prop 8. Since then, my sense is that a lot of us have sacrificed time we would have rather devoted elsewhere in the course of calling out the insanity emanating from SLC. Final question: Can you relate?
RC: Absolutely. Look, Mormonism is my own religious heritage. My ancestor traveled from Scotland, sacrificing all he had to join the Mormons in their quest for freedom from religious tyranny at the hands of evangelicals who were disgusted at Mormon alternative marriage. He laid the stones to the very wall around the base of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. I’m very sad, as are thousands of others, that the Mormon Church has taken this course in to political activism and lost the very heart and soul of what any church is about…THE PEOPLE. Frankly, I think it’s time for the people to take back their churches. It’s time for the people to reclaim their heritage. Zealotry is a disease that can infect any faith. It’s time we throw the money changers out of the temple and start over with the basics.