..."This is the year that is really going to make the difference," said Ryan Little, director of "Saints and Soldiers," a World War II drama scheduled to open in Utah theaters in early 2004...
"This is the year that's going to say, 'This genre has legs or this genre needs to go away,' " Little said.
He added a cautionary note, however. "I think that it's kind of neat that people are doing (LDS-oriented films). I think the danger is when everyone kind of gets excited and jumps on the wave and tries to create pictures. What happens is, you get a broad selection of quality level. . . . And, if LDS films do bad, or if a bunch of films come out consecutively that are poor quality or a bad story or a bad script or whatever, I wonder if the intended audience will say 'You know what, I think I've just had enough of that.'"...
SCHEDULED FOR FALL RELEASE
- "Suddenly Unexpected" (special screenings in Houston theaters)
- "The Work and the Story," Aug. 29 (limited digital-video screenings)
- "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey," Sept. 12
- "Day of Defense," Oct. 10
- "Best Two Years," Oct. 10
- "Pride and Prejudice," fall 2003
SCHEDULED FOR WINTER 2004:
- "The Home Teachers," Jan. 9
- "Saints and Soldiers," early 2004
- "The Legend of Johnny Lingo," Aug. 29
A film that was locally produced will find an audience beyond the Jell-O Belt, having been accepted in six film festivals so far.
"Saints and Soldiers," shot earlier this year in Utah, will have its world premiere over Labor Day Weekend at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. It will subsequently play at Salt Lake City's Gloria International Film Festival, the San Diego Film Festival, the Temecula Valley (Calif.) International Film and Music Festival and the Big Bear Lake (Calif.) International Film Festival.
Producer Adam Abel said an additional festival also has accepted the film but will not officially announce it until Sept. 3.
Abel said "Saints and Soldiers" has been submitted to 20 festivals, 13 of which have not made their selections yet. Of the seven that have decided, six said yes. (The one rejection came from the Malibu Film Festival.)
Director Ryan Little said he has not submitted the film to Sundance yet, but plans to before the Oct. 3 deadline.
Telluride was the first festival to give the thumbs-up, and Little was thrilled.
"It immediately told me that we had made a film that could go beyond the LDS market," said Little, a Brigham Young University alum who also directed the little-seen "Out of Step" last year.
"Saints and Soldiers" is the latest entry in the Mormon cinema movement that began three years ago with "God's Army." The story is of a group of American soldiers in Germany in World War II, one of whom served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany just before the war.
Karl Kozak, director of programming for the San Diego Film Festival, had high praise for the film.
"I thought they did a great job recreating World War II, which is always a feat within itself for an indie film," he said. "It's a touching story, with a lot of camaraderie. It's one of those stories that you kind of get lost in, it sucks you in."
The LDS character, played by LDS actor Corbin Allred, is not identified specifically as a Mormon; in fact, the film never mentions the name of any church specifically. But the character is from Snowflake, Ariz., doesn't drink or smoke, carries a little book of scripture around with him -- oh, and was a missionary.
"People who are LDS will see him as an LDS character, but non-Mormons probably won't see that, unless they have close friends who are LDS or something," Little said. "They'll just see him as a religious character, not necessarily LDS."
Abel said the ambiguity was in part to make the film appealing to a wider audience.
"There's obviously stories within the LDS faith that have a universal appeal, but it has to be presented and marketed and packaged so people of whatever background, religious or not religious, can appreciate the compelling components of the story," he said.
Little said he hopes to have the film in theaters in January or February, but he's not sure yet how it will be distributed.
"If we go to a film festival and somebody picks it up, we'll gladly sell it and let them deal with it however they want to deal with it," he said.
"We like that scenario, because it's safer financially, and all the investors get their money back."
If festival exposure doesn't get the film bought by a major distributor, Little said they may go the route most other LDS-themed films have gone so far: opening in a handful of theaters in Utah, then spreading through Idaho, Arizona, and other places where there is a high concentration of Latter-day Saints.
...More [LDS Cinema movies] are coming down the pipeline. The makers of "The Singles Ward" will be back with "The Home Teachers" in January and a missionary comedy, "The Best Two Years," in February. A drama about Mormons fighting in World War II, "Saints and Soldiers," is now on the festival circuit...
...("The Work and the Story" features another constant of LDS films: Kirby Heyborne, who starred in "The R.M.," appeared in "The Singles Ward" and has roles in "The Book of Mormon Movie" and "Saints and Soldiers.")
The script for "The Work and the Story" (the title is a spoof on the popular book series "The Work and the Glory") was written in 2001, just as "Brigham City" was hitting theaters. Some jokes poke fun at the members-only humor of some LDS films (even adding subtitles to explain arcane LDS terms). Other jokes -- like references to a Book of Mormon movie and a World War II LDS film -- are now coming to pass...
...Production costs vary. Rogers spent $2 million on "The Book of Mormon Movie," "The Other Side of Heaven" cost $7 million to produce, and Ryan Little made "Saints and Soldiers" with . A reasonable budget for an LDS film is about $400,000, said Thomas Baggely, co-webmaster of ldsfilm.com.
Some production costs could have been a lot more if it weren't for the support of people who believe in the projects.
Little received free authentic military uniforms and vehicles for his World War 2 film from a war veteran who had helped him with a war movie he had directed while attending BYU. The only exchange was that the man and his buddies could be in the film.
The actors in "Saints and Soldiers" were out of Little's budget range because most of them had been in Hollywood movies, sitcoms or LDS movies. Corbin Allred starred in "Teen Angel" on ABC and Kirby Heybourne starred in "The RM" and has also been in "The Singles Ward" and other up-coming LDS films. The LDS cast members wanted to do the project because it had the potential to reach further than just the LDS culture. They were willing to be paid at a discounted rate because they were excited about the project, Little said...
...Also coming are Dutcher's "God's Army 2" and "The Prophet," about the life of Joseph Smith; the World War II drama "Saints and Soldiers"; [etc.]...
INDIANAPOLIS - The World War II drama "Saints and Soldiers" won the $50,000 grand prize and a Crystal Heart Award at the 12th annual Heartland Film Festival honoring life-affirming films.
The film, shot in Utah earlier this year, tells the story of a soldier in World War II who had served a mission to Germany before the war. The film is the latest in the "Mormon Cinema" genre, and one of the first to receive film festival accolades.
The film doesn't specifically talk about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the character is known as a former missionary from Arizona who keeps LDS standards.
"Saints and Soldiers" was directed by Ryan Little, who won a Heartland award in 1999 for "The Last Good War."
The movie will play next at the Hawaii International Film Festival, including a showing for members of the military at Pearl Harbor, Little said.
Little's 1999 winning film "opened a lot of doors for me," he said. "People were willing to meet with me."
"Saints and Soldiers" stars Corbin Allred and Kirby Heybourne.
"Saints and Soldiers," a locally produced World War II drama, has taken home the grand prize from this year's Heartland Film Festival, an Indianapolis-based event that showcases "life-affirming" films.
In addition to the Crystal Heart Award, which is given to the most popular dramatic feature at the festival, the film also took home a $50,000 prize.
The film was directed by Ryan Little ("Out of Step") and follows five U.S. Army soldiers who are trapped behind enemy lines during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge.
According to co-screenwriter Geoffrey Panos, the film is based on the real-life experiences of some of the survivors of the Malmedy Massacre, in which 61 American soldiers were murdered by SS troops. (And one of the characters is LDS.)
"Obviously, (the LDS character) is not necessarily the focus of our film. His story is just one of the subplots," Panos told the Deseret Morning News.
Also, the movie is surprisingly "grown-up and realistic" in its depiction of the soldier's experiences, according to Panos. "I'm just glad that it was so well-received there. This is a really big honor."
"Saints and Soldiers" has also been screened at a variety of other festivals, including Telluride and Sacramento, where it also won audiences awards. The film will continue to play the festival circuit throughout the rest of this year and is expected to play in Utah theaters early next year.
The Heartland Film Festival, now in its 12th year, includes studio-produced features in its programming, but organizers say the real focus is to recognize and honor "filmmakers whose work explore the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life."
This is not the first time a Utah feature has won honors at the festival. Local filmmaker Blair Treu has won the Crystal Heart Award twice, with "Little Secrets" in 2001 and "Just Like Dad" in 1995. Other local films that have won Heartland Film Festival awards include Gregory Haynes' "Cowboys and Angels" in 2001 and Bill Shira's short film "A Truce With Death" in 1993.
In 1999, Little won a student award at the Heartland Festival for his short, "The Last Good War."
Saints and Soldiers director Ryan Little, left, star Corbin Allred and producer Adam Abel share a moment on stage after accepting their prize.
This years Hawai'i International Film Festival (HIFF) kicked off with a special salute to the Navy by offering a free premiere screening of the World War II film "Saints and Soldiers" on Oct. 23 at Sharkey Theater on Pearl Harbor.
"We were incredibly honored to have both such a great film and a great audience," said Chuck Boller, executive director for HIFF. "It was a perfect and natural match."
Boller was just one of many guests to attend the event. The film's producer, director and lead actor were also present for the premiere.
"We are so honored to be here at such a significant historical location," said Ryan Little, the film's director. "We are ecstatic about being able to share this film with the Sailors and soldiers. It's a great honor to be here of all places and to show it to probably our toughest critics."
After watching two short films from the festival, "A Place to Stand (Turangawaewae)," a drama from New Zealand, and the comedy "A Ninja Pays Half My Rent," the main feature began.
In the film, four U.S. soldiers escape the 1944 Nazi "Malmedy Massacre" of POWs during the blitzkrieg into Belgium that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. They survive the numbing cold of the Ardennes Forest with little food and fewer weapons. They meet up with a British reconnaissance sergeant whose plane was shot down, and who must get his crucial information across enemy lines to the allied command.
"It was difficult to make," recalled Little. "It was filmed in the middle of the winter so we had trouble keeping both the cast and equipment warm."
Little, who was inspired after reading the book "Saints at War," enlisted the assistance of several historical re-enactors, with their own vintage uniforms, vehicles and weapons.
"The film was shot in 30 days with only a ," said Boller. "I thought they did a fantastic job. The acting was first rate, the production values were great, and it was a beautiful looking film."
Corbin Allred, an actor who may seem familiar to some viewers because of past roles in films like "Anywhere But Here" and "Diamonds," as well as television parts on shows like "Navy NCIS," "JAG," "CSI," "Judging Amy," played Cpl. Nathan "Deacon" Greer, the main character of the film.
"While I've been a big military buff my whole life, coming here and just knowing the history of Pearl Harbor, is such a real thrill. But I feel a lot of pressure showing "Saints and Soldiers" to this group because this is the audience we want to impress the most ... these are the people we are trying to honor in doing this film."
After the film ended, the reviews came flooding in.
"I thought it was a really great story," said Army Staff Sgt. James Fidel, from the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific. "It was very well told and cinematically, I really liked it."
"It was a very good movie," agreed Seaman Lee Stevens, from USS Russell (DDG 59). "It really went into the kinds of relationships you build with your shipmates, or soldiers in this case."
"I'm really glad they liked it," said the film's producer Adam Abel. "My main desire as a filmmaker is to inspire and uplift people."
He added that he has always felt the military is a great source for story ideas.
"I think with respect to the military and the services and sacrifices they render to protect our freedom, I have found and heard all kinds of incredible stories from them," Abel said.
"Saints and Soldiers," which opens to the public in February, will re-air at the Signature Dole Cannery Theater Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the film festival.
"We also have military discounts," said Boller. "There are reduced rates on all of the festival tickets for active duty military. We are very honored to be working with them and hope to both support them and entertain them at the festival.
Since its establishment in 1981, the HIFF is dedicated to advancing understanding and cultural exchange among the peoples of Asia, the Pacific, and North America through the medium of film. This year's festival includes over 150 features, documentaries and film shorts. The festival has premiered such movies as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Once Were Warriors," and "Y Tu Mama Tambien."
"We were founded as a way to promote cultural understanding between Asian, the Pacific and the United States," said Boller. "In today's intricate world, a cultural understanding is more important than ever. Since deep down people really all share the same basic characteristics, we have found films brings them together."
This year HIFF is hosting 164 films from 34 countries.
"It's a wonderful mix of films," continued Boller. We got films of all kinds ... everything from action movies, including a special kung-fu section, to heart-wrenching dramas ... we've got something for everyone."
Following the premiere of "Saints and Soldiers" at Pearl Harbor, the cast and crewmembers took time to sign autographs, answer questions and meet the Sailors and soldiers who attended the premiere.
"To be here was actually very humbling for us," concluded Abel. "It's a real treat to get to meet and thank the Sailors for their service and the sacrifices they're making. And hopefully we will be able to continue to share their amazing stories."
Advance tickets for the festival are available at the HIFF box office located in the Dole Signature Theatres complex. MMCM(SS) Jerry Pittman, chief of the boat of USS Bremerton (SSN 698), describes life at sea to actor Corbin Allred. The actor from the film "Saints and Soldiers" toured the submarine along with the film's producer and director on Oct. 26.
A screen shot from the film "Saints and Soldiers" that premiered at Sharkey Theater.
ST. GEORGE -- Utah's least-heralded but most-ambitious film event, the Eclipse Film Festival in St. George, returns this weekend for its fifth year.
The festival focuses on independently made films, including shorts, animated films and documentaries, most by directors from Utah and other Western states.
New this year is a feature film competition, which includes five movies, among them the locally produced features "The Best Two Years" and "Saints and Soldiers." According to organizer David Chase, the primary goal of the festival is to give exposure to filmmakers who wouldn't otherwise receive it, as well as to enhance the broad spectrum of arts in southern Utah.
Festival selections will be screened tonight and Saturday in the Pioneer Opera House, 200 N. Main, and at The Movies multiplex, 214 N. 1000 East. For information on ticket availability and screening times, go to the festival Web site, www.eclipsefilmfest.com.
The soon to be released "Saints and Soldiers" is just one of several new movies in what has become a burgeoning industry in the Intermountain West.
In less than four years, films produced by, directed by, written by and starring Latter-day Saints have exploded onto the scene.
The phenomenon goes on, starting with a film that, even before its release, has achieved a remarkable popularity, reaching beyond Utah and the Mormon culture.
Carole Mikita has this special report.
Five Allied soldiers are trying to survive behind enemy lines during World War II's Battle of the Bulge.
"Saints and Soldiers" has shown in 12 film festivals around the country this year and won the jury prize or audience choice award at all 12!
Movie Clip/"Saints & Soldiers": "This is Rudolph Gertz from Berlin. When I was on my mission in Germany, I taught his family."
Adam Abel/ Producer, "Saints & Soldiers": "It has only shown at one festival here in what would be termed as The Jello Belt. The rest of it is on the west coast and east coast, and then in the midwest as well. So, there's been a large reception to it."
Ryan Little/ Director, "Saints & Soldiers": "Knowing that we got accepted to all these film festivals, we knew that people could relate to this film regardless of their religious background, which was great for us."...
...Jeff Simpson/ President, Excel Entertainment: "We're going through an evolutionary phase, where stuff's dropping by the wayside. If it's not that good and the cream's rising to the top, and I think that's what you'll see."
"The Home Teachers", "Pride and Prejudice" and "Best Two Years" and "Saints and Soldiers" all open in either January or February followed by others later in the year.
The locally produced feature "Saints & Soldiers" continues to win awards, this time taking home two honors from last weekend's Eclipse Film Festival in St. George.
Director Ryan Little's World War II drama won the Audience Choice Award, while Wynn Hougaard won Best Editing honors for the film.
Last month, "Saints & Soldiers" took home the top prize from the Indiana-based Heartland Film Festival, and it has also won audience awards at events in Telluride and Sacramento.
Other Eclipse awards went to Felix Fuchssteiner for best short film and as best director. His 45-minute "Die Kurve" also garnered best-screenplay honors for Tankred Dorst and Katharina Schode.
Also taking home a pair of awards was writer-director Michael A. Picchiotino's drama "Clipping Adam," which won for best feature and best actor, the latter going to Evan Peters.
Other winners were T.C. Christensen, who won the best-cinematography award for "A Pioneer Miracle"; Nate and Chris Smith, best animation for "Jonah: A Great Fish Story"; Timothy Gorski, best documentary for "Lolita: Slave to Entertainment"; and Tara Pinley's "Band Camp" won as best student film.
It was the fifth year for the independent short-film festival. For more information on the event and past winners, check the official Web site, www.eclipsefilmfest.com.