Richard Dutcher is a Mormon filmmaker. But please don't call him that.
It's a label he once wore with pride, but no longer. When his films God's Army (2000) and Brigham City (2001) were big hits with Mormons, he was hailed as arguably the finest director yet to emerge from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
But then Dutcher did something dangerous: He made an edgy, gritty film, one that wasn't all smiles but was more in-your-face in depicting man's sinful nature, including—gasp!—that of a Mormon missionary, who falls into sin while doing his missions work.
Because of that film, States of Grace, Dutcher has been shunned by the LDS church. He also says that many other recent "Mormon films" are so bad, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the label.
States of Grace releases to DVD today after quite a year for Dutcher. He has not only been rejected by the Mormon community, but also saw his movie create a bit of controversy. Grace was playing at a San Diego theater when a box office worker told customers that it was "being advertised as a Christian film, but it's really a Mormon film."
Some Mormons were outraged and planned a protest, but Dutcher called them off, preferring to keep the peace and let the film speak for itself.
Grace, a well-crafted and powerful film, begins with a drive-by shooting witnessed by two Mormon missionaries named Farrell and Lozano. One of them saves the life of a shooting victim, who ends up considering a spiritual change. Farrell and Lozano also befriend a fallen Pentecostal pastor, Louis, now a homeless man, and a neighbor, Holly, who has a painful past. Elements of grace come crashing into all of these lives.
In the film's most powerful scene, Farrell and Lozano find Louis, the homeless man, passed out behind a dumpster. Lozano wants to take him to their apartment to feed him, but Farrell objects: "It's against the rules!" Lozano says, "We can keep the rules and leave him here lying here among garbage. Or we can break the rules and keep the Commandments. . . . What would Jesus do, Farrell?" "I don't know!" "Jesus would grab his feet!" It ends up being a study in contrasts between the two missionaries—one who "gets" grace, the other shackled by legalism.
Dutcher, 42, graduated from Brigham Young University with a film degree. He and his wife Gwen live in Mapleton, Utah, with their five sons and another child on the way.
We chatted with Dutcher as he looked forward to today's DVD release of States of Grace.
Did you grow up in a Mormon home?
Richard Dutcher: No, I grew up in a conservative Pentecostal family, and our preachers were not very supportive of film-going. I didn't see any movies until my mother [a single mom who had divorced his unfaithful and alcoholic father] started dating this Mormon guy, and the Mormon faith doesn't have any prohibitions against movies.
You ended up at Brigham Young, so I assume you became a Mormon somewhere along there?
Dutcher: I was 8 when my mother married this Mormon guy, and it was like, "Well, we're going to be Mormons now." But whenever I was with my mother's family, we'd attend Pentecostal services. And my real father's family were Baptists. So we kind of hopped all around.
It's strange to be a part of different faith communities. Pentecostal preachers were trying to save me from Mormonism. And Mormon leaders thought any other religion was a waste of time. But as a kid, I didn't feel any need to really make a choice one way or the other. And I even feel less so as an adult.