Dutcher also seems to have coined the term being used to categorize such films: "Mormon cinema."
The alternative form for this term -- "LDS cinema" -- has gained in popularity, and we use it throughout the paragraphs below.
Dutcher has also effectively defined the parameters of the term, which is perhaps a useful thing to do, but it should be pointed out what "LDS cinema" is, and what it is not.
The "cinema" aspect of "LDS cinema" is important. It refers to movie theaters. These aren't just "Mormon videos" or "Mormon films," which could include documentaries on PBS such as "American Prophet", or Church-produced films such as "Legacy" and "Testaments" which were shown only in special venues for visitors such as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. "LDS cinema" refers to films made to be shown in a commercial theater, made for a wide aspect ratio ("widescreen"), not a television set.
I worry slightly that by classifying certain films as "LDS cinema" because they are screened in commercial theaters, some people might dismiss important, quality work done by filmmakers for other venues. Lee Groberg's excellent PBS documentaries about such subjects as Joseph Smith, gunsmith Jonathan Browning, the Mormon Trail, for instance, have won awards and have been educational as well as entertaining. Rocco DeVilliers' excellent feature-length film "Only Once" had a bigger budget and higher production values than many theatrically-released feature films, but it was a direct-to-video product. Even thought it is a message-oriented film made with an express teaching purpose, it is undeniably a "better" film than many theatrically-released movies which were made primarily to entertain.
Yet, as meritous as such productions are, they clearly belong in a different category than what we mean when we refer to "LDS Cinema." It is useful to be able to talk specifically about "cinema" without frequent reference to often incomparable audiovisual media of other types.
More problematic than the word "cinema" is the "LDS" half of the phrase "LDS cinema." What does it mean?
Well, as used by Dutcher, "LDS cinema" clearly means more than simply "films made by Mormons." Latter-day Saints have been writing, directing, and starring in films almost since the invention of the medium. But nobody says that "Casablanca" (co-written by Utah native Casey Robinson) or "The Land Before Time" (directed by Don Bluth, a Latter-day Saint returned missionary) are examples of "LDS cinema."
Also, simply being about Latter-day Saints doesn't seem to qualify a film for inclusion in this genre, or else Henry Hathaway's "Brigham Young: Frontiersman," made in 1940, or even Trey Parker's bawdy missionary-as-superhero/"adult film star" parody would be included. But neither Hathaway nor Parker are Latter-day Saints, which seems to be the deciding factor, because both films (and many others made by non-Latter-day Saint filmmakers) predated "God's Army."
So, "LDS cinema" apparently refers to feature films about Latter-day Saints, whose topics are overtly about Latter-day Saints. Not just Latter-day Saint themes or values, or else one would have to include many, perhaps most, films directed or written by Latter-day Saints, including Bluth's "All Dogs Go to Heaven", Raymond F. Jones' "This Island Earth" and Brocka's "Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang." No, "LDS cinema" seems to require Latter-day Saint characters.
But what if somebody made a film about a story from the Book of Mormon? That would be about "former-day Saints", not "Latter-day Saints." Presumably the filmmakers of such a film would see it, too, as "LDS cinema", even though it features no "Mormons." So perhaps a better definition of the topical requirement for "LDS cinema" would be "films with overtly Latter-day Saint characters or themes."
What if the film isn't marketed to Latter-day Saint filmgoers? If Trent Harris's "Plan 10 from Outer Space" (1994) had been widely released, would it be considered "LDS cinema"? A science fiction comedy, it featured Latter-day Saint characters and themes, and was made by a Latter-day Saint (but not a churchgoer). Mormon audiences thoroughly enjoyed enjoyed "Plan 10", but it made no attempt to present a "positive" (or even accurate) picture of the Church specifically, or Christianity in general. Does "LDS cinema" entail some specific viewpoint toward Mormonism? Must it be positive? Orthodox? Must the filmmaker exhibit some minimum level of church activity or Christian belief for a film to be considered "LDS cinema"?
Defining "LDS cinema" may prove to be more difficult than other "minority" genres. African-American films are simply films made by African-Americans about African-Americans. Because "African-American" is an ethnicity and race, without a single official organization, there is no "orthodoxy" to consider. An African-American filmmaker could make a film about African-American characters and topics which is highly offensive to that community, but people would still recognize it as an African-American film.
Certainly "Mormon" is an ethnic description, and Mormons are just as much an ethnic group as Hispanics, Arabs, Basques, or any other ethnic group. But, as with many ethnic groups, most Mormons also share a specific religous background: most are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It seems unlikely that a film which was highly offensive to most Latter-day Saints would be recognized as "LDS cinema." It also seems unlikely that such a film would become widely known. The American movie-going public seems to have little appetite these days for films whose main objective is to openly denigrate minorities.
In practice, all of the films categorized as "LDS Cinema" are marketed primarily or significantly to Latter-day Saint audiences. A decidedly unorthodox film, or one which casts Latter-day Saints in a negative light, would not focus its distribution and marketing efforts on Latter-day Saints. Such a film may indeed be called an "LDS-themed" film, but it would not be clasified as "LDS Cinema."
One such example is C. Jay Cox's "Latter Days." Cox served a full-time mission for the Church before embracing a GLBT lifestyle. "Latter Days" is semi-autobiographical, telling the story of a Latter-day Saint missionary seduced into a GLBT lifestyle. Although the film is about Latter-day Saints and was written and directed by a Latter-day Saint (although not an active churchgoer), the film was marketed primarily to GLBT audiences, not Latter-day Saints. "Latter Days" is certainly "GLBT cinema," but it was not classified as "LDS Cinema."
No doubt there will be many other filmmakers who create films which are easily classifiable as "LDS cinema." They will be searching for the same audience that Dutcher found with "God's Army" and "Brigham City." Some of these films will probably be excellent. Some will probably be better than what Dutcher himself has made so far.
But Richard Dutcher and other good filmmakers don't like to repeat themselves. There will be Latter-day Saints who will make films which defy the parameters of "LDS cinema", which will force re-evaluation of the term. It will be interesting to see what develops.