“fit for the kingdom” – Combination documentary shorts and blog from BYU

John Dehlin Mormon, Mormon Stories

I stumbled upon this today: http://fitforthekingdom.byu.edu/index.php via an AML email forward from my Mom.

It seems to be a combination of documentary video shorts and a blog about regular, everyday church members. Pretty interesting.

From Randy Astle, “If you’ve got eight minutes to look at just one film on the website, I suggest “Leroy Pratt” (aka “Crossings”).

Below is an excerpt from the email by Randy Astle of BYU, who apparently is involved in the project. Whaddya think?

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BYU film professor Dean Duncan, with other faculty and
student participants (primarily Ben Unguren,
currently, I believe, doing PhD film work at NYU’s
Tisch School of the Arts), submitted a proposal on
Feb. 12, 2002 to BYU’s Media Projects Committee. This
was a standard grant application, but in the hands of
Duncan–one of our most gifted thinkers in the realm
of cinema–it turned into a manifesto for a revolution
in LDS cinema, or, rather, how Latter-day Saints use
cinema. The entire proposal should be published with
only slight copy editing in the second of the two
upcoming film-themed issues of BYU Studies
(October-ish). Here is one paragraph from a rough
draft of an introduction I wrote for that:

“Members of the Fit for the Kingdom movement—an
informal ideological coalition that has primarily been
spearheaded by BYU Theatre and Media Arts professor
Dean Duncan—specifically desire to use prosumer or
consumer level video equipment to create short
documentaries that profile rank and file members of
the Church. The films eschew narrative in favor of
characterization; rather than formally bearing their
testimonies the subjects exhibit their discipleship
through regular activities within their daily
surroundings.”

The films on the website you cited are good examples
of how such projects work. The theoretical idea
behind it–which takes up most of the proposal–is
that narrative films, feature films, films only about
prominent or spectacular Mormons, etc., do not depict
the depth and breadth of discipleship within the
Church. It is better to examine the lives of those
Saints “of the last wagon”: the elderly, those who
care for the handicapped, mothers, people fulfilling
thankless callings, people building chapels, and in
general people quietly going about achieving their
salvation. This is to be done essentially entirely
outside the commercial marketplace; Unguren, for
instance, is currently working on a video of a New
Jersey ward to be shown and distributed to members in
that area, and if it strengthens their resolve to keep
pressing forward, then it will have served its
purpose. My own vision for it–as the backbone of the
future of LDS film–is that it becomes–as Errol
Morris might say–fast, cheap, and out of control. As
digital origination (video cameras) and distribution
(Internet, on-demand programming, etc.) proliferate,
video will become the primary agent in uniting the
global Church in a 1 Nephi 14:12-14 sort of way. The
Saints in Paris can make a film that will be seen by
the Saints in Perth, and those in Perth will make one
seen in Cardston, and from there to Provo, to
Helsinki, to Manaus, to Beirut, etc.: a world-wide
cinematic web that destroys isolation and provides
unity, that inspires and gives impetus as Saints see
the work rolling forth, Standard of Truth-like,
throughout the world (making it a powerful catalyst to
kingdom-building in our own corners of the vineyard),
and that in general strengthens testimony as it
quitely bears testimony. The LDS contribution to this
“cinematic web” will include fiction films, feature
films, historical documentaries, etc., but I think the
Fit for the Kingdom agenda will make up the bulk of
it. I, for instance, am more interested in how Saints
are building meetinghouses in India, how they
responded to Katrina in Biloxi, how a new member in
Okinawa is overcoming a Word of Wisdom addiction, or
what it’s like to be a single LDS mom in Glasgow than
in what happens this autumn to the Steeds (although
I’ll go see that film too).

Mine’s obviously a very favorable stance on the
project. It has as yet received little to no funding
and no distribution beyond the website. And it’s
still very Provo-centric, or at least American, though
I believe Duncan shot some stuff in Colonia Juarez. I
also believe it ties in to literature, by the way, as
things become increasingly multimedia-based,
particularly personal, family, and ward histories
(interactive, with text, audio, and video). As
journals and sermons have historically made up the
bulk of LDS lit, so these things, which have a strong
history in LDS film dating back to the first footage
of Latter-day Saints in 1898, will make up the bulk of
LDS cinema; it’s a short step from blogs, email lists,
and audio podcasting, to vodcasting. This global
unity is what the makers of the Church in Action films
in the 70s and 80s envisioned but were never able to
achieve because of poor publicity and distribution,
something now conquerable because of the grassroots
and populist, accessible nature of the Internet.

If you’ve got eight minutes to look at just one film
on the website, I suggest “Leroy Pratt” (aka
“Crossings”), Ben Unguren’s film about a crossing
guard in Provo, done in 2001 or 02 on the cusp of the
thing. And stay tuned for the BYU Studies issues,
which I hope will provide a tremendous boon to quality
of LDS-themed films.

Randy Astle