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"8: The Mormon Proposition" Reveals Man Behind The Curtain

The film documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition" tells the story of how the Mormon Church invested itself in ensuring the passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California.

The film's writer, director, and producer, Reed Cowan, obtained some 15,000 insider documents from the Mormon Church that he claims spell out its decade-long campaign to damage gay people and their causes. "To me, that's the voice in the piece that's the most credible, the most impactful, and really the most damning," Cowan says.

"8: The Mormon Proposition" has been surrounded by buzz since February 2009, when in an interview with Cowan, Utah State Senator Chris Buttars compared gay activists to radical Muslims. As a result of those comments, Buttars was removed from the Senate Judiciary Committee he chaired.

From Journalist To Filmmaker

Annie Corrigan: Do you see yourself as an activist as well as a filmmaker?

Reed Cowan: No, I really don't. I see myself as a journalist. I was a journalist in Salt Lake City during some of the biggest stories to come out of Salt Lake City in the last decade, Elizabeth Smart being one of them. As a journalist in Salt Lake City, I worked to try to tell the story of Mormons and Mormon issues.

Anybody who's a reporter in that town knows that the public relations department at the Mormon church headquarters makes it next to impossible to tell any story but a story that makes them look good. They're an impenetrable fortress.

Having been raised Mormon, and having covered them from a critical point of view in Salt Lake City, I knew that if this story didn't get told and if these documents didn't get out there, it would be left in the history books to the whims of a public relations division of one of the most powerful and wealthy religions in the United States. And that can't happen. There would be something gravely wrong in having Proposition 8 and other measures like it, and the bigotry that fuels them, not be exposed and laid wide open for the citizenry to see.

AC: How does a journalist become a filmmaker?

RC: (laughs) I think it's an easy step to go from being a journalist to being a filmmaker. It's just a question of genre. In television, a television reporter gets two minutes of airtime to tell a story – maybe three minutes. You're limited to a certain number of column inches when you're a print journalist. A documentary is a nice way of just expanding your airtime to go deeper into a subject. I think it's a quite natural leap and transition.

Refusing To Speak

AC: What were some of the challenges you faced while making this movie?

RC: We wanted to make sure all voices were represented, and so the most challenging thing was getting a response from the Mormon Church. I begged them. Our producers begged them. My co-director begged them. "Please go on camera. None of this looks very good for you. In fact, it's quite damning. It would be good for you to go on camera and tell your story and defend yourself." And they turned down our repeated requests.

So, the biggest challenge was getting the Mormon hierarchy inside the big granite building in Salt Lake City to come out of their gilded cage and explain to the citizenry why they were so involved – to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and hundreds and thousands of man hours on the streets in California – in an effort to rob people of their basic civil rights. They wouldn't defend themselves. They still haven't, to this day.

They told us very clearly, "We will not go on record. We will not do any on camera interviews." As a filmmaker, what's your next avenue? You go and talk to Mormons in general, and so that's what we had to do. We talk to some of the more vocal anti-gay members of the Mormon Church and the rest is history.

The Man Behind The Curtain

AC: Chances are the people who are going to see this movie in Bloomington, Indiana are going to be at least somewhat informed on what's been going on with Prop 8. What about this movie will surprise viewers?

RC: What I have found as the film has screened throughout the world is that the big surprise factor is that there was definitely the man behind the curtain, so to speak. Proposition 8 was what it was, but the strings were being pulled from behind the curtain mostly by Mormons and front groups, the biggest front group being the National Organization For Marriage.

The Future Of Prop 8

AC: Where do you see Prop 8 headed in the coming year?

RC: We know it's going to go to the California Supreme Court. Marriage equality, I believe, will and should end up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. I believe that is where you will see full federal equality happen.

Look, the equality of gay and lesbian citizens, at least from my view, is not going to be obtained through a vote. It's just not going to happen. It's going to happen through the courts.

I do believe our film has accomplished a great deal. It's gotten the dialog going, and we needed that painful dialog to begin in order to find some healing.

"8: The Mormon Proposition" is Cowan's second full-length documentary.

More: Find out who selects which movies will make the cut for the Pride Film Festival.

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