This feature was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. “8: The Mormon Proposition” opens in theaters and on VOD this Friday.
“I am not immature enough to think we have 100% believers in this audience in what we are doing, and what we’ve done,” “8: The Mormon Proposition” director Reed Cowan said as he introduced the world premiere of his film at the Sundance Film Festival this past January. “So for those of you in the audience who are skeptical or nervous or afraid of what this film is about to say… First of all, I extend my thanks and my welcome to you. Because in the end it is so important that we all unite in a dialogue. We may not agree, but we are the human community and we need to come together to see the damage that was done – not only with Proposition 8, but with other measures just like it.”
“8”‘s premiere here in Utah was obviously a powerful event for many of the folks in attendance. The film essentially exposes the influence the Mormons – whose headquarters are based just an hour away in Salt Lake City – had on the Proposition 8 ballot. Through news footage, audio and video from Mormon leaders discussing same sex marriage, and interviews with various individuals – Mormons both for and against same sex marriage, a married gay couple who both came from Mormon families, an investigator who uncovered the church’s explicit plan to pass Prop 8 – Cowan makes it quite clear (if it wasn’t already) just how devastating the church’s teachings was for opponents of Prop. 8. Church leaders essentially forced Mormons from around the country to donate to the Yes on 8 campaign, and engaged in similar tactics for other anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiatives elsewhere.
A former Mormon himself, Reed said he made the film because of the effect the church had on his own struggles with homosexuality.
“Really, my personal reason – aside from giving [the people in the film] a voice – is the fact that I was a kid in Roosevelt, Utah, who knew what it was like to be called a ‘faggot’ every day,” he said. “I knew what it was like to go to church and hear that word in the hall. I knew what it was like to want to kill myself for what I silently fought my whole damn life… And, really, the root of it all was that my church taught that I was a monster for who I was authentically.”
Though the film itself is flawed (from downright bizarre choices in sound and stock footage to laughable recreated sequences), it most certainly packed an emotional punch. The Sundance audience often broke out into cheers and applause, and the sound of tear-induced sniffling was present throughout the entire film.
After a lengthy standing ovation, the film’s 20-minute Q&A evolved into quite the spectacle, with audience members passionately addressing their thoughts on the subject at hand.
“This isn’t really much of a question,” one tearful audience member said. “But I just want to say – first of all – thank you to all of you. I want to say I hope all of you here were inspired as I was. And I also want to say that the Mormon church won this battle, but they’re going to lose the war.”
One woman got an intense round of applause as she stood up and admitted that, although she was practicing Mormon, she fully supported same-sex marriage and suggested there was hope for her church.
“I just want you to know that it may not look – from the outside – like there’s any change,” she said. “One of your interviewees referred to ‘the Mormon mind’ – which sounds kind of terrifying. But there is not just one Mormon mind. I’ve seen change come to my church and I think it’s going to come again. I thank you for doing what you’re doing because things did happen [with the church and Prop. 8].”
The comments weren’t all complimentary, though. One man – who admitted (to hisses from the audience) that he had voted in favor of Prop. 8 – questioned the film’s use of audio.
“Before the film you mentioned that we need to have a dialogue,” he said. “And I agree with that entirely. I respect what you are doing… But my question for you is about the filmmaking techniques. I noticed when you had representatives of the Mormon church you distorted the audio and visual. And I thought that might be more propaganda than dialogue.”
Cowan answered his suggestion by saying there was no audio distortion, while the film’s co-director/editor Steven Greenstreet said that the audio in question had been ripped from a poor quality mp3 and thus unintentionally sounded distorted. However, he also discussed the film’s use of music – which was definitely quite aggressive and oftentimes manipulative, cueing the audience on how to respond.
“We’re not just standing here,” he said regarding the music. “We wanted to portray it as we felt, as we were experiencing… So as for the editorial choices that you brought up, we stand behind them.”
The final question of the night was asked to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who, in regard to what the legal options are in overturning laws like Prop. 8, stated:
“I want to just leave you – as this film did – with a sense of hopefulness. There’s great work that people are doing in San Francisco on the federal case [to overturn Prop. 8] that will ultimately make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And [may I] remind you that this is a similar narrative of the history of interracial marriage. Remember it was 1967, not 1937, where blacks could not marry whites in 16 states. Until a young man broke the law and was sentenced to one year in prison because he fell in love and said ‘I do.’ And the court decision that led to the ultimate adjudication of the Supreme Court was very interesting because the judge in the case said – and I will barely paraphrase, it’s almost verbatim – said that ‘God put different races on different continents for a reason. God never wanted the races to mix.’ That was the argument against interracial marriage. Religious, again… It is an extraordinarily similar narrative to the one that is been advanced on the issue of marriage equality today.”
Watch the entire Q&A here.