Work-in-progress film seeks a balance between ‘Art + Belief’ | ParkRecord.com

Work-in-progress film seeks a balance between ‘Art + Belief’

Artist Nathan Florence, an art teacher at Weilenmann School of Discovery has added "documentary filmmaker" to his resume.

He is currently working on a film called "Art + Belief," which is about visual artist Trevor Southey, a gay Mormon from Africa who passed away in 2015.

Park City will get a chance to preview the work in progress at a special, free Park City Film Series screening on Thursday, Sept. 6, at the Park City Library's Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave.

The screening, which is part of the film series' new Made In Utah Film Series, is a way for Florence to get some audience feedback about how to improve the documentary he plans to submit to the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

"I started filming in 2011, so it's been a long time in the making," Florence said. "I'm doing these little screenings to give me ideas of how I can better edit the film."

The catalyst of "Art + Belief" was an exhibit by Southey that as showing at the Utah Museum of Fine Art in 2010.

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"There was a panel discussion that featured Trevor, Gary Earnest Smith, Neil Hadlock and Dennis Smith," Florence said. "Trevor talked about his history, and Dennis talked about being Trevor's advocate."

Southey was born in Africa and was a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Florence said.

"Although he knew he was gay, he came to Utah and got married because he was told by his church leaders that that would 'cure' him," Florence said.

When Southey struggled with his sexuality and membership in the church, the other Mormon artists became his support group and advocates, according to Florence.

"They were the ones who helped Trevor be true to himself, which meant losing his family and being kicked out of the church," Florence said. "Through this all, they continued to be close friends and have this artistic relationship. And my dad summed it up well when he said, 'these artists have created a community of acceptance and love in a spiritual sense that the church has failed to do in a way.'"

After the discussion, Florence kept thinking about how these artists have been able to transcend these labels of church members and artists to create a respectful space where people such as Southey are welcome.

"I wanted to tell this story, and not being a filmmaker, I thought I would get someone else to film a conversation between these artists," Florence said.

So he reached out to Sterling Van Wagenen, one of the founders of the Sundance Film Festival and a family friend..

"I called him up and said he should make a film about these artists, and he said, 'That sounds great, and here's what we need to do.'" Florence said. "He kept saying 'we' and then said, 'I'll be the executive director if you direct the film.' So, I called my wife and said, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm going to make a movie.'"

Florence began talking with his art community contacts to get donations, and he has since partnered with the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, which became a fiscal partner.

He also had the chance to talk with Geralyn Dreyfous, founder of the Utah Film Center and cofounder of the Impact Partners Film Fund, which has funded many documentaries.

"The first thing she told me was that I was the biggest liability to the film, which meant that I was a new filmmaker who didn't have a track record," Florence said.

After a few months of emailing advice to Florence, Dreyfous became one of the documentary's executive producers.

"That blew me away," Florence said. "That is such a tremendous honor to have her on board with my film."

The film's title "Art + Belief," comes from what is known as the Mormon Art and Belief movement that started at Brigham Young University in 1966, Florence said.

The movement was started by artists to who wished to balance their beliefs with their art, he said.

Southey, Smith, Hadlock and Earnest Smith were among the founding artists of the movement.

"These are artists that I looked to as my examples while I was growing up in the Mormon church and as I pursued my own art," he said. "I heard of this Art + Belief movement, although I didn't know these artists were part of it."

Getting in touch with the artists was fairly simple because Florence's parents knew them personally.

"My dad helped Dennis with a book he was writing and Dennis introduced us to Gary," Florence said. "I've known Trevor Southey ever since I was an infant, because my parents met him when they were all in college. And we knew him up until he passed away."

Still, Florence didn't want the documentary to be seen as an anti-church film.

"As an artist you pick things up, pull them apart and put them back together while asking yourself challenging questions," he said. "The biggest question for me was, how do I reconcile all of this with the faith I grew up in that has all of the specific rules and policies? I wanted to know how these things go together, and I looked at these artists who I thought seemed to have found a balance."

Park City Film Series will preview Nathan Florence’s work-in-progress documentary “Art + Belief,” not rated, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, at the Park City LIbrary’s Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave. A Q&A with Florence will follow the screening. For information, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.com.