Moviegoers applaud Prop. 8 film critical of LDS Church

Sundance » One viewer accused the filmmaker of making a propaganda tract.
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It may be the friendliest audience Reed Cowan will get in Utah.

Cowan received two sustained standing ovations Sunday for his documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition," which harshly criticizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its campaigning for California's ban on same-sex marriage, from the 600-strong audience attending the film's world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Some in the audience cried when hearing stories of gay men and lesbians recounting discrimination they have suffered. Others hissed when Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka appeared on-screen, or when State Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, appeared to declare homosexuality "the greatest threat to America going down."

Mostly, though, they applauded and cheered Cowan's film for presenting evidence of the LDS Church's work to persuade its members to donate money to the campaign for California's anti-gay Proposition 8 -- and to hide the church's involvement, knowledge of which would have dissuaded voters, through front organizations.

Outside the Racquet Club Theatre, about two dozen gay-rights supporters staged a mini-rally. A rumored protest against the film never materialized.

Having the film premiere in Park City, 30 miles from the world headquarters of the LDS Church, was important, said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is interviewed in the film and attended Sunday's screening.

"So much of what we were fighting was perpetrated here [in Utah]," Newsom said.

"It's amazing to see a film like this in Utah," said Spencer Jones, a Utah native and ex-Mormon. Jones' June 2008 wedding to Tyler Barrick (who counts a polygamist Mormon as an ancestor), after a California court declared same-sex marriage legal, is chronicled in the film.

Cowan, a former Salt Lake City TV reporter who was raised in the Mormon faith, told the audience he was compelled to make "8: The Mormon Proposition" because "I was a kid in Roosevelt, Utah, who knew what it was like to be called a faggot."

During the post-screening question-and-answer session, many in the Racquet Club Theatre audience complimented Cowan and co-director Steven Greenstreet. Some issued calls for action and defiance against the November 2008 passage of Prop. 8.

"The Mormon Church won this battle," said one man in the audience, "but they're going to lose this war."

Opinion in the audience was not unanimous. One viewer, who identified himself as voting for Proposition 8, accused Cowan of making a propaganda tract. He criticized the use of ominous music playing under audio of a satellite message in which three LDS apostles issued a call to action to church members. The LDS Church hour-long satellite broadcast never has been made public before now, the movie said.

Cowan defended the choice, saying the music reflected "how [the apostles' words] felt to my heart, as a filmmaker."

"8: The Mormon Proposition"

The movie screens at 5:30 p.m. today at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, and at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. Screenings are sold out but wait-list tickets may be available prior to showings.