Lila has long since given up on visiting her father in the institution where he lives. But when looking for an old record player in her attic, Lila discovers a cache of artwork, poetry, home movies and photographs that belonged to her father. In a powerful and evocative scene Lila these physical objects from times past draw Lila into the life of her father as he was in times past: an artist, a writer, an immigrant from Europe, a young man in love with Lila's mother. The experience is a shocking revelation to Lila, and prompts her to visit her father for the first time in years.
Accompanied by her best friend Max (Levi Larsen), Lila makes the trip to visit her father, and despite his condition, she feels she might really be able to communicate with him. Max's own father (played by news broadcaster Phil Riesen) is healthy, but distant and absorbed in his political career. The contrast between Max and Lila's families is poignant but not forced. Max and Lila hatch a plan to draw out something of the younger man from within Lila's father. Their plan is surprising, entertaining, and yields a powerfully moving climax to the film.
I write about a lot of films. I enjoy describing a new and unfamiliar film to readers interested in hearing about it. I usually don't hesitate to do this. But let me be up front about what happened with Christian Vuissa's new short film "Unfolding." It has been many weeks since I first saw it. Although I was honored to be given the chance to see it before its release on video and DVD, I have procrastinated writing about it. I simply feel that my words are inadequate, and that this film deserves a far more qualified film reviewer to do it justice.
I'm simply a fan of good, entertaining films. As such, I can wholeheartedly recommend "Unfolding." If you love a good story, uplifting ideas, superb and entirely natural acting, compelling images, and magnificent music perfectly supporting the film, you will find all of it here.
These are the types of readily evident film characteristics which I am most comfortable describing. In all of these areas director Christian Vuissa has been unsparing in his commitment to excellence and a professional quality production.
What is wonderful about "Unfolding" is that in addition to excelling in an artistic and cinematic sense, it is also morally excellent and truly inspiring.
Many films by young (and even more experienced) Latter-day Saint filmmakers are content to do one or the other, either strive for high production values and artistic standards, or skimp on those aspects and simply transfer to the medium of film an inspiring story or message. Inspirational videos absolutely have their place and purpose. I love watching many of them. I have little complaint with a film that has a wonderful heart and message, even though its lacks in other areas. Such a film achieves its goals and speaks to its target audience even if it has little potential to reach an audience interested primarily in form and craft rather than content or message. Yet it is a breath of fresh to encounter a film such as "Unfolding," which is so much more, which doesn't rest merely on "being clean" or inspiring on the one hand, or being "daring" or well made on the other.
Yet even as I describe "Unfolding" in these terms, I recognize that there is so much more there that I am unable to convey. It is clear that this is a film which works on many levels, and which rewards multiple viewings. Each time I watched it I picked up on nuances and significant gestures and images that I had not seen before. The way scenes are framed and lit and even the objects which populate the corners of a scene feel both natural and significant, enhancing the film's impact without calling attention to themselves.
The music is particularly instrumental in enhancing the film's emotional impact. The score features an original musical score by professional film composer Thomas C. Baggaley and two songs by a Lindsay Smith, talented contemporary singer whose lyrical delivery blends folk and light rock sensibilities. These combine with each other and with the film's visuals elements smoothly and organically.
One impressive aspect of the score involves the Lila's quest for an old record player, which is what leads to her pivotal trip to the attic. She wants the record player so she can listen to a classic Rachmaninov album that she found in a used record store. Baggaley's score heavily incorporates a newly orchestrated and performed version of Rachmaninov's actual Opus 23, but then blends it seamlessly into original orchestral music.
Without copying anybody, Vuissa seems conversant in the filmic language of Godard, Truffaut, Polanski, Besson, Hitchcock and other masters of the craft of filmmaking. I only point this out for those few readers who may be interested in the very best in filmmaking artistry: "Unfolding" has it. But there is nothing elitist about "Unfolding." It is also accessible and enjoyable for audiences (such as myself) whose favorites include "Legacy" or "Johnny Lingo" or "Saturday's Warrior."
In these qualities, "Unfolding" is -- not surprisingly -- quite similar to Vuissa's previous film, the award-winning "Roots & Wings." Both films bridge the gap between purely artistic and purely inspirational filmmaking. Among recent feature films they can be best be compared, even in their look and tone, to Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" and "Brigham City." While Dutcher's feature films were undeniably mounted on a bigger scale, Vuissa's short films exhibit greater attention to detail and refinement, with stories that are more subtle and open to different interpretations.
Is "Unfolding" a better film than "Roots & Wings"? I think that it is. "Unfolding" is more multi-layered, more expert in technical details, and moved me much more deeply on an emotional level. But I like "Roots & Wings" more, because it is more unique and purposeful in its premise. The "setup" for for "Roots & Wings" -- a Catholic man's perspective of his family members joining the Church -- is simple to describe and fills a valuable niche. The characters are Latter-day Saints or Catholics in identifiable and important ways.
"Unfolding" has no denominational or ethnic demarcations. It may appeal to a broad general audience, but it has less appeal to a specifically Latter-day Saint audience. Perhaps the film's biggest drawback is that its basic themes are not unique or even unusual: learning about one's parents and dealing with mental illness. Although "Unfolding" is a joy to watch and handles these subjects in interesting, original ways, it is debatable whether the film actually makes a distinctive and important contribution.
Perhaps "Unfolding" has distinct significance if it is taken not simply as a film about families or mental illness, but as a specific exploration of the scriptural verse on its cover: "He shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers." In this regard, the film resonates powerfully, although its meanings are not always on the surface. These themes lie below an enjoyable, moving, and beautifully told story.
Director of Photography
Production Design by
Original Score by
Thomas C. Baggaley
|Unit Production Manager||William Boaz|
|1st Assistant Director||Jason Conforto|
|Faculty Advisor||Stan Ferguson|
|Lila's Mom||Reb Fleming|
|Lila's Dad||Kenneth Norris|
|Max's Dad||Phil Riesen|
|Young Dad||Isaac Howard|
|Young Mom||Alecia Maher|
|Young Lila||Lindsey Lasson|
|Bookstore Owner||Richard Horsley|
|Police Officer||Jodi Nix|
|Script Supervisor||Marta Becerril|
|Scrapbooks Design||Michele Brummer
|Flipbook Design||Oliver Chipping|
|Painting of Lila||Donna Corno|
|Scrapbooks Created by||Melissa Clater|
|Super 8 Footage & Photographs||Mark Noakes
|Set Dresser||Kirsten Vuissa
|2nd Unit Camera||Christian Vuissa|
|Hot Air Balloon Pilots||Erwin Oertli
|Casket Provided by||John Platt|
|Production Sound Mixer||Clark Edmunds|
|Boom Operator||Marty Stiles|
|Sound Design||KC Blake|
|Chief Lighting Technician||Brandon Christensen|
|Key Grip||Jason Conforto
|Special Effects||Clark Edmunds|
|Digital Transfer Engineer||David F. Nauta|
|Color Corrections||Steve Kons|
|Title Animation||Jeffrey Whitehead|
|Online Editor||Wynn Hougaard|
|1st Assistant Camera||Ty Arnold|
|2nd Assistant Camera||Dan Barnett|
|Glidecam Operator||Travis Cline|
|Dolly Grip||Jason Conforto|
|Extras Coordinator||Cindy Ferguson|
|Still Photographer||Merete Grimmer|
|Craft Services||Kirsten Vuissa
|Production Assistants||Kathleen Conforto
Written & Performed by The Justin Cash Trio
Thinks I Like
Written & Performed by Lindsay Smith
It Is No Mistake
Written & Performed by Lindsay Smith
Rachmaninov Op. 23
Violin by Jeremy Starr
Special Thanks to
Carma de Jong Anderson
Ira & Mary Lou Fulton
Richard & Rick Horsley
Mike & Jenni Mahoney
Theatre and Media Arts Department
LDS Motion Picture Studio
Heber City Police Department
Courtyard at Jamestown
East Lake Care Center
Community Thrift Store
Green iver Motel
Provo City Cemetary
Cookies by Design
Doc's Pizza Buffet
Krispy Kreme Donuts
Pier 49 Pizza
The production of this film was made possible
by the generous contributions of
Oscarson Discovery Grant
Lucille King Scholarship
Final Cut Grant
Media Arts Department Grant
The events and characters depicted in this film
are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This film is protected under the laws of
the United States and other countries.
Unauthorized duplication, distrabution,
or exhibition may result in civil liability
and criminal persecution.
© 2003 Christian Vuissa / Momentum Pictures