Dealing with the economy on camera
January 30, 2009
How do you explain to your neighbor that you had to lay him off to save your own job? What if you saved 10 other peoples’ jobs by laying him off, will he understand that? What if you’re also his clergy?
That’s the problem facing Aaron Young, a middle-aged white Mormon in Salt Lake City with six kids, a boring job and a challenging church responsibility. He’s the main character in a new movie filmed in Utah, titled "Father in Israel: A tribute to fatherhood."
Filmmaker Christian Vuissa, a native of Austria, has been impressed with the Utah Mormon culture since he arrived several years ago to attend Brigham Young University. A member of the LDS faith himself, he said he’s been disappointed by the portrayal of families in previous movies targeting LDS audiences.
"I feel family is so central to LDS culture and previous films don’t deal with that aspect in a way that rings true to life," he said. "I was interested in representing what I’ve observed in Utah: men committed to family and church."
That focus on sacrifices made for family and faith will appeal to non-LDS audiences as well, said Park Meadows resident Pam Eichner.
Eichner plays Cindy Young, the mother and wife in the movie. Eichner is not LDS and had to research the faith to get into the character, she said. Now that she’s seen the completed film, she’s encouraging her friends in Park City to see it.
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"It’s a warm story," she said. "What I liked best is it’s a functional family. That’s a real treat; you don’t see that in films anymore. Also, moms don’t have a strong presence in films anymore. The fact that Cindy Young is so pivotal, that’s a hard thing to find [in films]."
Eichner also said she thinks this film will be a good way for non-LDS people to learn more about the faith and culture without hearing it from preachy people.
"To me, it doesn’t shove the faith down the throat," she said.
Faith does play a prominent role in the film. The story follows Aaron Young as he deals with a wayward teenager, is called to be the bishop of his local congregation, welcomes one son home from a mission and prepares to send another one off. The youngest child is ready for baptism and the oldest is engaged to be married in the Salt Lake Temple.
But the dramatic tension in the film is created by Young’s boss telling him to choose 20 employees to lay off in order to square the budget. At first, he proposes restructuring to operate more efficiently. After much after-hours research, he convinces the president to only lay-off 10 people. Unfortunately, one of those is a member of his congregation.
Lacking the stomach for the task, Young is deeply tempted to quit and join a friend in opening a golf-equipment franchise. But as his wife points out, with six kids, the risk is too high in the current economy.
"Father in Israel" is the first locally-made film to feature conflict created by the recession, and may be the first in the nation. But Vuissa did not foresee that when he wrote the script two years ago.
"The focus of the story is somewhere else. It’s just an additional hardship on him. I think the focus is on a husband and father who has to deal with everyday things," he said.
Movies are usually about extraordinary happenings, not everyday things. But Vuissa said he believes the little things families deal with have big consequences. Everyday, parents make small choices that, in the end, make a big difference and will bring joy and satisfaction if made wisely.
"There’s drama in the everyday process and drudgery of life," he said.
That was production coordinator Brandon Smith’s favorite aspect of the film.
"It’s about people dealing with work pressures along with the work they do within their own church. I think people will relate with that and enjoy it," he said.
Even though the LDS faith is a prominent part of the story, Smith said he thinks that will make it more, not less, appealing to non-LDS audiences.
There are many films that depict unique cultures created by location and faiths. Previous depictions of Utah Mormon culture poked fun at it from an insider’s view and were "incredibly cheesy" or "super overdramatic."
"This is the most accurate depiction of LDS culture to date," he said. "There’s less to be confused about, making it easier to focus on the family and enjoy those aspects of the film."
The role the economy plays in the story "definitely hits home," he said. The challenges placed upon the main character are what a lot of people are going through right now.
"Father in Israel: A tribute to fatherhood" stars local actress Pam Eichner, a Park Meadows resident, and will be released on DVD and possibly in theaters before Father’s Day.