Without the responsibility to objectivity (or at least the appearance of it) required by journalists, documentary filmmakers have the freedom to use the medium to express their beliefs on the matters of real world issues and events. It takes a great deal of courage to challenge an enormous, ideological and litigious institution (Calm down, Scientologist lawyers, I’m not talking about you or your clients), and directors Reed Cown & Steven Greenstreet fearlessly do just that in 8: The Mormon Proposition. It tackles head on the Mormon Church’s involvement in the funding and promotion of California’s Proposition 8, and observes the lives left in the wake of this repressive ruling. Check out the review after the jump…
California’s Proposition 8: the Marriage Protection Act is the bill that essentially revoked same sex couples’ ability to marriage and receipt of the rights and benefits thereby afforded. It is likely the most controversial piece of state legislation in decades. Igniting nationwide protest from the GLBT community and their supporters, the investigation that followed revealed that it was also one of the most expensive political campaigns in the state’s history. When scrutinizers followed the money, the trail led right to the steps of the Mormon Church. 8: The Mormon Proposition exposes the manipulative, disingenuous and potentially illegal methods by which the LDS church managed to sway public opinion in favor of the bill.
The film unveils a great deal of newfound evidence showing the Mormon Church’s meddling in the gay marriage debate since its inception in Hawaii, in the late 1980s. It reveals their tactics of heading up coalitions of religious and community organizations with the specific intention of keeping their own institution from receiving too much attention as aggregators of rhetoric and misinformation. It shows Of particular note, the film unearths original audio recordings from a previously unreleased, and since heavily edited, satellite broadcast from top Mormon prophets to their followers. The broadcast literally represents this issue as an affront against their Heavenly Father’s will, to be met by what is repeatedly referred to as a battle. Mormons, as righteous soldiers, have a duty to do all in their power to squash this issue for the good of humanity and its place in Gods kingdom.
Though the political implications of this film are strong and many, the true achievement of this film is the way it humanizes the consequences of the matter at hand. It would take an especially imperceptive mind not to be struck by the fact that this religious institution’s notion of propriety is devastating the freedom and emotional well being of both those who choose to follow it, as well as those who don’t. We see gay couples and their families, whose dreams of achieving equal rights as Americans are shattered mere weeks after they were even realized. We see young men who faced “sexual reprogramming” at the brutal hands of church officials, carrying their trauma for the rest of their lives. We see a family drain their family college funds to help finance this piece of legislation, surely leaving their five children to grow up wondering what kind of Church would rob them of an opportunity at higher education. We also see the icy stares of families who seem to maintain “Maybe things are better this way,” after their gay sons and daughters commit suicide, unable to face the despair of losing their families for something over which they have no control.
Co-director Steven Greenstreet was in the crowd and answered a handful of questions, following a screening at Sundance 2010’s Temple Theater. When asked if any Mormon officials had seen or responded to the film, he said “To my knowledge, no Mormon officials have seen the film, but they sure have commented on it. They say it’s full of lies and inaccuracies, which is funny, because they go on to say that they haven’t actually seen it themselves.”
This led to the question of, “if your audience is only made up of sympathetic viewers, then how do you expect your film to ignite any kind of discussion?” Greenstreet replied, “well, first of all, a lot of information in the film is being revealed for the first time, so it will engage sympathetic viewers and further inform them than they had been before. Secondly, I think this film will be seen by some Mormons who question their faith, and really shake up their beliefs, forcing them to take a hard look at the institution they give over 10% of their income to without question.”
Perhaps a lofty and unattainable goal, given how entrenched many religious believers are, but when placed against the humiliation and emotional devastation an undeserving population has endured, it certainly seems a worthy one.