This database indexes films produced by the LDS Church, films depicting Mormons, and films created by or featuring Mormons when some affiliation with the LDS religion or culture can be ascertained.
LDS Films Genre History
Latter-day Saints have been the subjects of films since 1905, when Thomas Edison’s company released A Trip to Salt Lake City, the first film with identifiably LDS subject matter. Production of films by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was prolific in the 1910s and 1920s. A renewed effort in the 1940s led to the establishment of a Church-owned Motion Picture Studio in 1953, and both official and independent productions have increased constantly since. Since 2000, a number of theatrically released independent Mormon feature films has raised awareness of what is now understood as a long history of Mormon Film. For an overview of the movement and key issues, special issue on Mormon and Cinema published by BYU Studies in 2007.
Five Waves of Mormon Film
(As adapted from Randy Astle, Mormons and Movies: A History, BYU Studies, 2007)
First Wave (1905-1929):
Coinciding with cinema’s silent era, this period saw a stream of anti-Mormon films made by commercial studios in Europe and America. Latter-day Saints responded by making films of their own on Church history and the Book of Mormon. Brothers Shirl and Chet Clawson contributed to these and also made hundreds of short documentaries about Church leaders and activities.
Second Wave (1929-1953):
With the Great Depression and failure of several independent films, the 1930s were an era of regrouping. The LDS Church sponsored radio plays and still filmstrips and the introduction of film projectors to every meetinghouse for entertainment and instruction. These combined after World War II with the creation of Deseret Film Productions, a small production company connected to Deseret Book.
Third Wave (1953-1974):
With the creation of a full-fledged film studio at BYU, LDS film entered its classical age. Under the direction of “Judge” Wetzel Whitaker the studio created hundreds of short educational and religious films that were seen throughout the Church and America. Interest in independent LDS film resurged but was not financially successful until the advent of video.
Fourth Wave (1974-2000):
Video revolutionized LDS film by allowing the Church itself greater infiltration into homes and meetinghouses (through broadcast, a new satellite system, and VHS) and by reducing costs and allowing independents to make movies that would otherwise be too expensive. By the 1990s the Church was making longer and more complex productions, and the 1997 Pioneer Sesquicentennial saw more films made about Mormonism than any year before.
Fifth Wave (2000-present):
The modern period appears to have come full circle to the First Wave with independent theatrically released feature films. The Church remains an active film producer and video an all-important subsidiary market. More and more LDS filmmakers are feeling part of a movement, and critics are beginning the first concerted study of LDS film in its history, all pointing to greater cohesion and quality in the future.