Entrevue avec Talena Sanders, réalisatrice de Liahona

La cinéaste Talena Sanders, ancienne mormonne, revient dans Liahona sur ses origines en explorant la communauté mormonne et en interrogeant les principes de son église. Elle a bien voulu nous en dire plus sur sa démarche et la façon dont elle en est venue à réaliser ce film intime.

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Being a former member of the Mormon Church, your film is very autobiographical. Could you let us know why and when you entered and left the Church?

I was born into the religion, I’m a 4th generation Mormon on my dad’s side of the family. My mom converted to Mormonism later. I knew I wanted a career in the arts, and that I was serious about it, which would become a conflict with the Mormon values and expectations for women – that your main purpose in life was to be a wife and mother. I was also a feminist, though I didn’t fully understand that was what I was becoming while I was still a practicing member.   As can be seen with the recent ex-communication of Mormon feminist Kate Kelly of the Ordain Women movement, the LDS Church does not exactly embrace feminist values. (here’s a reference article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/us/Kate-Kelly-Mormon-Church-Excommunicates-Ordain-Women-Founder.html?_r=0). I was, and remain deeply troubled by the Church’s stance on LGBTQ members. These concerns, along with never quite feeling like I fit the role of a devout Mormon lady, built over time, and I felt compelled to leave the faith in my early 20s.

What were the main reasons that pushed you to make the film?

Since I left the Church, people often asked me why I didn’t make work about being Mormon. It was always too personal, too close to me, and Mormon culture and history is a huge, complex subject to even begin to consider. In 2010, I came across an article about Mormon college students who were trying to be fashionable despite the Church’s modest dress code. At that point, I was making documentary photography work exploring dress and identity in various cultures. Somehow, seeing someone else give my own culture the ethnographic treatment allowed me a point of entry for thinking about how I could work with this personal topic. It felt like the right time to begin to explore my own heritage in the same way I had been looking at people’s experiences in other parts of the world.

Your film is composed of a large variety of footage. Could you discuss the origins of those images and the reasons why you decided to include your own footage at the same time?

The form of the film is largely influenced by Mormon film productions I grew up watching in Church.  I had a hard time staying focused on reading the Book of Mormon and the other scripture texts, so I learned a lot of the doctrine through their films. The LDS Church is possibly the most cinematically engaged religion.   They have a full film production lot in Provo, a talent database for members to sign on to act in Mormon produced films, their university, Brigham Young University, has a highly regarded animation program, and many of the films I grew up watching were produced by BYU’s filmmaking program. Their depiction of the divine informs my own aesthetic sense, and that shaped the way I shot my own footage.

The found footage destabilizes the voice of the story.  Pulled from a long form commercial the Mormon Church produced in the 80s, and a documentary on the American west made by British documentarian Alistair Cooke, the point of view shifts across insiders translating their story to the outside world, and outsiders trying to understand what’s going on inside.  My position within the Mormon story will always be as a simultaneous insider and outsider. Weaving together the various voices and points of view reflects the feeling of parsing out who to trust when you’re striving to be a devout Mormon. Those outside voices, with so many opinions on your faith? The leaders telling you what to believe? Or your own questioning?

Is your own recollection real or partly fictionalized?

I’ve forgotten some of the details of the theology over the years, but what I remember sharply now is the atmosphere. The remembered feeling of being an individual within this mass organization guided my treatment of Mormon history and culture. There are some of the conventions of a journalistic, informative documentary in this film – statistics, authoritative voices, expert interviews, but these rise and recede within my attempt to recreate the feeling around being part of a religious community. There are some staged events in the film, but most is shot on location of events as they happen. I shot the film on a Bolex, which doesn’t lend itself to reliable sync sound, so the soundtrack is composed separately from the image, and not always faithful to location sound. There is one purely fictionalized event in the film, an imagined possible conversation about the truth of my experiences.

What are your feelings now towards your former community?

Complicated. The film takes its form from my own relationship with the Church. The multiplicity of voices and representation of Mormon experiences reflects the tensions between my own nostalgic longing to belong to a community, to have divine faith, and the culture of the religion that can be toxic and damaging to individuals, and the difficult history that becomes impossible to ignore if you look beyond the Church’s official lines.

Do you happen to know how the Mormons received your film?

There are so many ways to be a practicing Mormon. I’ve shared the film with some Mormons I would think of as being more liberal, and they’ve received the film well. Ex-Mormons and people who grew up in a strict religious upbringing recognize analogues to their own experiences. I haven’t had an opportunity to screen it for a practicing Mormon community or a city with a large Mormon population, but I’ve had some LDS people send me critical responses after reading reviews or interviews about the film. I think it would be difficult for an orthodox, devout Mormon to appreciate my treatment of their faith at times, but I hope they would be able recognize that I’ve worked to render many of the aspects of the faith as beautiful as I regard them to be.

Séances :

Jeudi 13 novembre, 15h00 – Cinéma Excentris, salle Cassavetes

Dimanche 23 novembre, 14h00 – Cinéma du Parc 2