Richard Dutcher’s commentary in last Thursday’s edition of the (Provo, Utah) Daily Herald sent shockwaves throughout the Mormon blogging community. (Of course there’s a Mormon blogging community. There’s a blogging community for everything.) I recommend reading it in its entirety, but here are some key excerpts:
The church would never allow shoddy, inexperienced architects and builders to create one of its temples. In its sacred commitment to excellence, the church searches for and employs those with the necessary talents, non-Mormons and Mormons alike. Some day, church leaders also will understand the power and potential of film. The cinema of a movement as great as Mormonism must be directed by great artists, not by inexperienced committees. Imagine the potential of images to convey the deepest, most sacred doctrines of Mormonism.
Look at the movies that play on the screen of the theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. These films are the introduction of Mormonism to hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe. Shouldn’t these be the most powerful films on the face of the earth? For whatever reason — nepotism, ignorance … who knows? — this opportunity is squandered. Why not share with visitors the beauty and power of Mormonism, rather than treating them to polite, remedial and not-so-factual recitations of Mormon History and scripture? Viewers should leave those films weak in the knees, their minds reeling, their spirits soaring. Film has the power to do that.
He also said he is no longer a practicing Mormon (a big shock to most readers), but he loves the church and its doctrines and has simply gone a different direction, spiritually.
On Saturday, the Herald ran a viewpoint by Chris Heimerdinger, a popular LDS novelist whose book “Passage to Zarahemla” is being made into a film to be released this summer. Heimerdinger’s comments don’t really interest me, so I’m not going to talk about them.
The real juicy response to Dutcher’s article was published right next to Heimerdinger’s, both covered by one central headline: “Answering Dutcher.” This one was by Kieth Merrill (misspelling of “Keith” is correct), who won a Best Documentary Feature Oscar in 1973 for “The Great American Cowboy.” He was a little annoyed by Dutcher’s dismissal of the films that play at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. These movies, first “Legacy” and most recently “The Testaments,” are hour-long motion pictures that depict stories, dramatized but fact-based, pertaining to Mormonism. Dutcher described them as “polite, remedial and not-so-factual recitations of Mormon History and scripture.” This offended Merrill because, um, he wrote and directed them.