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A documentary on the dirty works of clean flicks

Those who have been in Utah valley for the past decade or so have heard in one way or another about edited movies. Often called “clean” or “moral” movies, they are meant to take the place of the alleged filth distributed by the Hollywood elite. Two local filmmakers decided to start filming the heyday that developed after filmmakers sued the companies that edited their films, and ended up with some impressive footage showcasing the rise and fall of the edited movie empire. A full-length documentary entitled “Cleanflix” was the result. UVU Review interviewed the filmmakers as they prepare to show their film at the acclaimed Toronto Film Festival.

How did you get your start in film?
Andrew: I have actually been making movies since I was a little kid. When I was thirteen I made a remake of “The Empire Strikes Back” in my basement. We made all of these sets, had miniatures and made costumes like it was a huge production. Throughout high school I made some other stupid little movies. I went to BYU and I was planning on going to law school, but then I realized that wasn’t the right thing to do, so I said “Screw it, I’m making movies.” I made a couple of short films prior to Cleanflix and I shot another film called A Better Life, which played in some film festivals and won an award. This is my first documentary.

Josh: I grew up with a pretty well-known cinematographer and art director in my neighborhood and they taught me a lot of stuff from an early age. I worked on SLC Punk! and then I went on a mission for the Mormon church.  When I came back, I just started working on film crews again. I was going to UVU — it was UVSC at the time — and  worked on the documentary “This Divided State.” I dropped out of school that semester during filming and I never went back. I have been working on movies  ever since.

“Cleanflix” has an obvious Utah cultural context – but seems like it will appeal to a wider audience. How is Cleanflix viewed in a vacuum state, one without the we-know-this-about-the-LDS-church-background?

J: I think people outside the state and unfamiliar with Cleanflix and Mormonism are actually a lot more interested in the topic than people from here because they’ve never heard of it. I think when you mention Cleanflix here, people have certain conceptions about what that film’s going to be.

A: People are so fascinated with Mormons and the film does a pretty decent job at giving a running context for Mormon culture and giving people a glimpse into what Mormonism is like and what it’s like to be a Mormon. The film doesn’t go too deep into what Mormonism is, but it does give a glimpse into what it’s like to be in Utah.

J: It’s not a doctrinal movie, it’s a cultural movie.

Is that something your foresaw during the creation of the film?

J: You can’t really tell the Cleanflix story without Mormons. Cleanflix helps to explain the Mormon story and the Mormon story helps to explain the Cleanflix story. When researching the whole R-rated thing, it was hard to find any reference to that in church records to put it in our film. It’s not something the church talks about a lot, but culturally it’s a big deal.

A: Our film is about the lifespan of edited movies and you can’t really get at the heart of that unless you understand some basic things of Mormon culture and about Mormon views on art, sexual representation and media. You have to understand the Mormon beliefs in family values and in protecting your children from outside influences. All of those things play into understanding edited movies.

Speaking of family values, does the film touch upon the influence a taboo can have on society?

A: Oh, I think it does. Certainly in the subtext it does. The film follows this guy, Daniel Thompson. His story really does help illuminate those issues in terms of how taboos affect society – how those defined cultural standards can affect people. I think Daniel helps us get at some of those issues, at least in the subtext.

There have been many films lately made by Utah filmmakers. Where do you see this movement going?

J: My feeling is that there is a really strong independent film community in Utah. It’s actually stronger here than most places in the United States, I feel. With the LDS church influence, I think that the industry grew up around these Mormon-themed films and you don’t see that in other places nearly as much as you do here. I think that what’s happened is that the younger generation isn’t as interested in making those Mormon films, so the infrastructure exists and the channels exist for film to be made. People then have experience working on film crews, so the younger generation is making films that may appeal to a broader audience, ones that may be more interesting than just a Mormon-themed comedy. I wanted to work in movies and I wanted to stay in Utah – but that’s the only work that’s available here. There are really talented people working here that aren’t given the opportunity to work on cooler projects, so I think that there are a lot of people working on those films as a day job, but there are a lot of people with their own projects that I’ll work my day job on, and then I’ll work on Cleanflix when I get home.

A: In Utah there are a lot of opportunities for interesting films – stuff that you could write about or make a film about and I really think that helps, too.

How would you describe art?  Film is an art form and you are using that art to talk about the way art is handled.

J: I think the fact that art exists as an art form and as a business is important to understand. If you talk to Hollywood, they’re going to talk about art. If you talk to Cleanflix, you’re going to hear about morals, but they’re all making money.

A: I would define pure art as self expression. I don’t know if that truly exists in this scenario. Obviously there are very talented filmmakers making very artistic films and I would classify those films as art, but because our corporate interest is involved, I don’t know if you can classify every film as pure art. Money is at the root of all of these issues.
These filmmakers are required by the studios to do certain things, and one of those things is to edit their films for airlines and television. By the time it gets to Cleanflix, they’ve made so many compromises that I think that they’ve had it. So I think the directors are truly looking at it from an artistic point of view but they don’t own the films, the studios do. The studios are all about money, so that’s where some of the gray issues come in.

Who are some of the names that are going to show up in the final cut?

A: Neil Labute and Richard Dutcher.

J: We were interested in talking to filmmakers that know this culture. Neil Labute is probably one of the most successful filmmakers from an LDS background who is making interesting films. He can shed a lot of light on the LDS perspective. Richard Dutcher is kind of known as the godfather of LDS cinema. He also sheds some light on the culture and helps us understand the way LDS people view cinema.

How do you handle all of the attention and success your film is receiving?

J: It’s exciting and nerve-racking. It’s nice to see the people who have a lot more experience than us appreciate the work we’re doing. It freaks me out to think that we are playing at a festival that the Coen brothers and Steven Soderbergh are playing at. I can’t really wrap my head around that yet.

A: I agree 100 percent with everything Josh has said. Steven Soderbergh is one of my favorite directors. I am super excited for the opportunity to meet some of these people that have inspired us. We are just pinching ourselves.