Among the most anticipated —and controversial — premieres at this years Sundance Film Festival is Believer a documentary that hits close to home for anyone living under the oppressive shadow of the Mormon church.
The film follows Imagine Dragons front man, Dan Reynolds, as he explores his personal convictions surrounding the treatment of gay and lesbian members by the church. It then culminates with shots of last year’s LoveLoud Fest, a benefit concert held in Orem to raise support for LGBTQ issues. However, the vision of the film was starkly different at conception.
“You have various things hanging over you, ‘like murder is an abomination, never commit murder’ and then being gay or acting on being gay is an abomination. And I think it puts people in a position where as they grow up they have this haunting feeling coming upon them, like, ‘what if that’s me? What if I become one of these things that’s an abomination?“
Before Reynolds courageously confronted his beliefs, he set out to document the streets of his hometown, Las Vegas, and to communicate the stories of those he engaged with. It wasn’t until some nudging by director Don Argott, that the film’s ultimate subject matter began to flourish.
“Don Argott really got Dan Reynolds to internalize why these stories are important to him,” said Anton Floquet, director of photography on the film. “Being a Mormon rock star, a lot of people expected him to believe many of the tenets of the church that he didn’t necessarily agree with … and instead of letting others put words in his mouth, he realized he had a voice, a voice he could use, and he saw this as an opportunity to use his voice.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as the Mormon church, has habitually found itself in the midst of political controversy over the years. Mostly due to its “tough love” approach on LGBTQ members and its intensive efforts to undermine the civil rights of the LGBTQ community at large.
Fortunately, Dan Reynolds’ high profile membership allows a discussion of these pernicious policies not usually afforded.
“I think the great thing about the film is that it comes organically from within, and everyone we encounter opens up because of who Dan is,” Floquet said. “He’s not an outsider — he’s coming from within, and he’s really discovering for himself the effects of various church policies and just the ramifications of them.”
Floquet, who is based in Los Angeles, said he was familiar with the Church’s efforts to undermine same-sex marriage because of its sponsorship of California Proposition 8. However, during the filming of Believer he was exposed to Utah’s shocking statistics of teen suicide and abandonment for the first time. A piercing revelation.
“The thing that really struck me is that you can be raised in loving, adoring families where you understand that God loves you, you love God, everyone in your family loves you and you love them equally,” Floquet said. “And then you have various things hanging over you, ‘like murder is an abomination, never commit murder’ and then being gay or acting on being gay is an abomination. And I think it puts people in a position where as they grow up they have this haunting feeling coming upon them, like, ‘what if that’s me? What if I become one of these things that’s an abomination?“
But Believer isn’t just for the politically minded. Fans of Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons will also have the opportunity to engage with the music they love, in a context they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
“If you’re a fan of music you’re going to love this film,” Floquet said. “It’s a documentary that plays almost like a musical … you can literally watch songs come to life and be built in front of you on screen.”
Believer will premiere at 8:45 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center. Tickets will be made available Tuesday Jan. 16.