Sundance 2018: Believer documentary captures inception of Utah’s LoveLoud movement, led by Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

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The new documentary film Believer, which premieres today at the Sundance Film Festival, is a much different film from what Don Argott, director and a guitarist who plays in a proto-metal band, intended. The film is presented by Live Nation Productions that will soon be part of HBO Documentary Films.

The original intent was a film about Dan Reynolds’ interactions with musical buskers and other interesting personalities in Las Vegas, home base for his band Imagine Dragons. “But as we chatted more with Dan, we discovered that his interests in people was stemmed from something deep inside him,” Anton Floquet, the cinematographer who has worked on numerous films documentaries and television projects, says in an interview with The Utah Review.

Don Argott: Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.

Argott, the co-founder of 9.14 Pictures who lives in Philadelphia, contacted Floquet, who had never met or worked with the director before but knew of him through a mutual friend. “He called me on a Wednesday and by that Sunday I was in Vegas,” he adds.

What happened afterward led to what Floquet says become one of the memorable, positive experiences he has ever worked on in the film industry. The production team learned much about Reynolds’ faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his upbringing, and the experiences of living with the rigorous doctrines and covenants of the church. “He realized he had a voice but he also knew that he was speaking words that had been put into his mouth,” Floquet recalls.

Photo Credit: LoveLoud Foundation.

The seeds for that had been sown several years earlier when It’s Time, one of his band’s songs was featured in an episode of the Glee television show when the series’ gay character [Blaine] sung it to his boyfriend Kurt. Many gay fans corresponded with Reynolds, expressing that while they loved the song they assumed Reynolds would not approve of their sexual identity because of his Mormon faith. The conflict triggered an intense sense of guilt for the songwriting artist. In a Billboard interview, he talked about the epiphany he experienced as a result of the response to the song: “That was devastating and it broke my heart to get letters like that. I’ve written back to these people to tell them, “No, I do support you and I’m here for you.”

Believer became a very different documentary at that point, as Argott and his team knew that they needed to let Reynolds be himself.

Dan Reynolds. Photo Credit: LoveLoud Foundation.

In Utah, teen suicides had escalated in tandem with the tensions of a church leadership unable to accept the pace of progress in LGTBQ rights and the full legalization of same-sex marriage. In just five years, the suicide rate among youth between the ages of 10 and 17 had more than doubled. However, in late 2015, the church called for mandatory ecclesiastical discipline for LGBTQ individuals who are married to those of the same gender. Furthermore, what turned out to be the most controversial and disturbing aspect even among faithful Mormons, was that children of LGBT parents would be barred from baptism and other saving rights until they are at least 18, and would only be allowed if they openly disavowed their parents’ relationships.

Affirmation, a group for LGBTQ Mormons and their families, reported two months later that it had tracked at least 32 suicides among young people, many connected to despair over the church’s recently adopted policy.

The making of Believer became the inception point for the LoveLoud movement and foundation that Reynolds started. He also collaborated with Tyler Glenn of the Neon Trees, who also was raised as a Mormon but left the church because of its intransigence on affirmation and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals.

The film’s third act culminates in the LoveLoud festival which was held last summer at the Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem, Utah and attracted more than 17,000 people. Andrew James, a Utah-based filmmaker who recently directed Street Fighting Men and was also one of the directors for the CleanFlix documentary, was brought on as cinematographer and field producer to film the event. “There was such a cool, positive energy and a tremendous vibe of love for the event,” James says in an interview with The Utah Review.

Anton Floquet.

While Believer raises the most difficult issues that have challenged and vexed Mormon leaders and members of the church, the film demonstrates that when any individuals find their voices for enlightenment, affirmation and compassion and combine them into a movement, the amplitude of the message cannot be ignored. LoveLoud brought support from many sources, including The Trevor Project, GLAAD, Stand4Kind and Encircle. Performances from many musicians including the Neon Trees, and Aja Volkman, who has been the front singer for the indie rock band Nico Vega.

Celebrities included Steve Young, former pro football quarterback and his wife, Barbara, both of whom are Mormons. In one instance, Reynolds and Glenn lead the song I’ll Walk with You, a well-known piece sung in LDS Primary programs. And, as James notes, it even gained the endorsement of the Mormon church, which released a statement read at the event. D. Todd Christofferson, an LDS elder, also spoke at the event, along with his brother, Tom, who is gay.

Andrew James. Photo Credit: Aaron Thompson.

James says Believer is a film that many Mormons will love. “The concert is proof of that,” he adds. Floquet says the experience reminds him of the positive and emotional energy that led to the huge transformation of his native South Africa when apartheid finally was being dismantled. “Change can happen even in brief moments,” he says, noting that his country moved quickly within a couple of years by adopting a new constitution and then becoming the first country on the African continent to legalize same-sex marriage.

In Utah, many are hopeful, even as the new church leadership appears to represent the most conservative base of its doctrines and policies. But, the halo effects of events such as LoveLoud also are making an impact. Just days before Sundance opened this year, Gov. Gary Herbert created a task force to move quickly and make recommendations by Feb. 15 on strategies and policies to address the rapid spike in teen suicides. Among the members are Ronald A. Rasband, a member of a top governing body of the Mormon church; Gail Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz and Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.

Screenings for Believer are as follows:

Today, Jan. 20, 8:45 p.m. — The MARC, Park City
Monday, Jan. 22, 6:30 p.m. — Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City
Tuesday, Jan. 23, 10 p.m. — Redstone Cinema 2, Park City
Wednesday, Jan. 24, 3 p.m. — Holiday Village Cinema 2, Park City
Saturday, Jan. 27, 9 p.m. — Temple Theatre, Park City

For more information about Sundance screenings and ticket information, see here.

Believer. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.
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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

1 COMMENT

  1. I keep seeing news reports claim that the increase in teen suicides in Utah is primarily caused by conflicts between the Mormon church and LBGT teens. There is simply no statistical evidence that supports this.

    First, it should be noted that Utah has always had a higher suicide rate than the national average. The cause of this is no secret, it’s due to the high altitude causing chronic low oxygenation of the brain.

    Second, there has been a nation-wide increase in teen suicides over this same period of time. The cause of this is yet unknown, though the initial theory is that it’s related to the widespread increase in social media use.

    There is simply no evidence that Utah is some unique case due to Mormonism.

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