We tend to think of movies as entertainment or an easy escape from the pressures of our own lives, but it's the power film has for change that is, arguably, its most important role. And the change the Sundance documentary Believer (from Live Nation Productions) targets happens to be right here in Utah. The film follows Dan Reynolds, frontman for the Provo-born rock band Imagine Dragons, who has taken on the mission of shifting how Utah's majority Mormon community, a.k.a. Latter Day Saints, treats LGBTQ individuals.
So why would a straight rockstar want to change up the official stance of the LDS church? As a lifelong member of the church, it's a personal quest for Reynolds. While the film mostly chronicles Reynolds attempt to put together a festival he's dubbed LOVELOUD, which aims to raise more awareness in the Mormon community about LGBTQ issues, the film also takes a heartfelt look at one man's very personal journey of coming to terms with his own faith. Though much of the film is light-hearted, at times it veers to the emotional.
Reynolds, the seventh of nine children in an entirely Mormon family, grew up like so many other members of the LDS community: being a Mormon was his entire life. After serving a mission in Nebraska, Reynolds began to question the church's stance on LGBTQ issues when his wife's (she converted for him) best friends--a lesbian couple--opted not to attend Reynolds' wedding because of the church's discriminatory stance. His doubts deepened when shortly after his openly-gay friend, fellow Mormon, and lead singer for Neon Trees, Tyler Glenn decided to raise his children in the Mormon faith, only to have the LDS Church (which has always had a policy against same-sex marriage) declare that the children of same-sex couples could not be baptized or receive blessings until they were 18 and disavowed all homosexual relationships, including those with their parents.
The story is not an uncommon one, particularly for LGBTQ youth who grow up in the LDS Church, who often lose their community and friends after coming out. Utah's teen suicide rate, already one of the highest in the country, spiked significantly when the church doubled down on their stance regarding same-sex couples. For Reynolds, the combination of these events became the catalyst for him to become an LGBTQ activist. Using his Imagine Dragons platform, he's stepped up to the plate, even if it hasn't been an easy road.
While the film is a worthwhile watch for anyone, it's particularly poignant from a Utah perspective. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone from or living in Utah--the epicenter of the LDS Church--who does not count multiple Mormons among their family, friends, or colleagues. Utah residents understand the pervasiveness of that culture, and may doubt how much change Reynolds can actually affect. But this film gives the notion some hope. Reynolds makes it abundantly clear he doesn't care what people think because he's already made a dent. Perhaps not with the church's leadership, which recently reaffirmed its stance on LGBTQ relationships, but individuals are taking note. Ironically, it's Reynolds's Mormon upbringing and missionary training give him resilience in his quest. "On a mission," he says in the film," you knock on a hundreds of doors before anyone lets you in. But you'll see there's nothing scarier than a determined Mormon. I'm going to keep knocking, and knocking, and knocking until someone opens this door."
Believer debuts on HBO this summer.