Short List of Recommended Films for Students of Latter-day Saint Filmmaking History
This is not necessarily intended as a list of "best films," but a list of significant films which cover a range of time periods and styles in Latter-day Saint filmmaking history.
- One Hundred Years of Mormonism - (1913) The first feature-length documentary ever made, about any subject, and only the sixth feature-length film made in the United States, this is film significant to LDS film history, as well as general film history. Made by non-LDS director Norval MacGregor, the film starred Frank Young playing the part of his grandfather, President Brigham Young.
- The Lives of a Bengal Lancer - (1935) Screenwriter Waldemar Young (grandson of Brigham Young) was nominated for an Academy Award for this classic set in the frontier of India. The DP was Charles Lang, of Bluff, UT.
- Brigham Young - Frontiersman - (1940) An early epic telling of the pioneer story. Stars Vincent Price as Joseph Smith and Academy Award-winning actor Dean Jagger as Brigham Young. (Interestingly enough, Jagger later joined the Church.)
- Casablanca - (1942) Every student of film should be familiar with this classic. Co-written by Logan, Utah native Casey Robinson, this is widely considered one of the best films of all time.
- This Island Earth - (1955) Before Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek, there was This Island Earth, the biggest s.f. film of the 1950's, based on the novel by Latter-day Saint novelist Raymond F. Jones, helmed by Academy Award-nominated Hollywood director (and native of Logan, UT) Joseph M. Newman.
- Johnny Lingo - (1969) The most popular of Wetzel O. Whitaker's classic Church-sponsored films, this "ten cow" short is a rite of passage all Latter-day Saint youth should be required to endure.
- The Great American Cowboy - (1973) One of the best films ever made about the rodeo, Latter-day Saint filmmaker Kieth Merrill received an Academy Award as director of this film.
- Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang - (1974) English title: "You Were Weighed But Found Lacking"; Written and directed by Lino Brocka, this film's leper character was drawn from Brocka's experiences as an LDS missionary in a Hawaiian leper colony. Widely hailed as the greatest Filipino filmmaker ever, Brocka was also the first Filipino baptized by Latter-day Saint missionaries.
- The Small One - (1978) Perhaps the most Christian film ever made at the Disney studios, this Christmas tale tells the story of a diminutive but kind donkey who ends up carrying Mary to Bethlehem. Latter-day Saints not only produced and directed the film, they also created the music. Don Bluth was the producer and director, and wrote 2 of the 3 songs. Richard Rich was the A.D. and wrote the 3rd song. Robert F. Brunner was the composer. The film even features the voice of actor Gordon Jump. A rare treat.
- Windwalker - In many ways "Windwalker" was one of the most important feature films in Latter-day Saint filmmaking history, yet it is often unrecognized as such. It was a major feature film made by an almost entirely Latter-day Saint crew. But it wasn't about Latter-day Saints -- it was about Native Americans. As the first feature film shot entirely using Native American languages for dialog, and set before the arrival of Europeans, "Windwalker" is actually better remembered in as a pivotal Native American film. "Windwalker" made over $18 million at the U.S. box office, and was director Kieth Merrill's most commercially successful non-documentary film. Other Latter-day Saints in key roles included book authors Brent and Blaine Yorgason, screenwriter Ray Goldrup, cinematographer Reed Smoot, composer Merrill Jenson, producer Douglas G. Johnson, as well as most of the other editors, producers, etc. "Windwalker" is an artistically accomplished film that remains impressive and enjoyable two decades later. Fittingly, many of the principle filmmakers went on to continued success and are among the biggest Latter-day Saint names in the film industry.
- Prodigal Son - This contemporary retelling of the Biblical parable is one of the better half-hour videos produced by the institutional Church during the 1980s and 90s. "Prodigal Son", like its sister productions such as "Labor of Love" and "What is Real?", is clearly message-oriented, but it comes closer to being an actual "cinematic" drama.
- Saturday's Warrior - (1989) Producer/director Bob Williams' movie (video) is a faithful remake of the classic Latter-day Saint musical, warts and all. Whether you love it or hate it, this is an indispensible piece of the community's artistic/cultural history. Highlights of this production include Brain Blosil's masterful treatment of the original Doug Stewart/Lex de Azevedo score and Kim Smith's choreography. The DVD includes a fascinating "making of" documentary, plus karaoke.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven - (1989) Students of animation should, of course, see all of Bluth's films. All Dogs Go to Heaven, written and directed by Bluth, is simply one of the best of many fine films created by this heir to Walt's artistic mantle.
- God's Army - (2000) Writer/director/star Richard Dutcher launched a new period in Latter-day Saint filmmaking with his big screen debut: about missionaries in Los Angeles.
- Brigham City - (2001) Richard Dutcher is writer, director, and star in this intense murder mystery set in a small Latter-day Saint town; Dutcher plays the sheriff/bishop who investigates the crime.
More recent films:
The purpose of this list is to provide a very short, manageable list of films which highlight aspects of Latter-day Saint filmmaking history. "God's Army" marked the beginning of the modern period in Latter-day Saint filmmaking. When film historians use the terms "pre-Dutcher" and "post-Dutcher," they are actually referring to the periods before and after the advent of "God's Army." Films that postdate "God's Army" and "Brigham City" are not listed here. Important films in the current era are likely to be widely available and well known to those interested in this subject.
For additional information, see the main Films by Latter-day Saints web page. For a list only of modern "LDS-themed" feature films which have already been released, see the LDS Cinema page.
Please send comments, suggestions, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web page separated from the main LDS Film page on 17 December 2001. Last modified 22 October 2004.