While preparing to attend the Priesthood session of General Conference yesterday, I found myself remembering Elder Quentin L. Cook’s passing mention of the film Amazing Grace in an earlier session. He referred to the film and the song of the same name, calling both “inspiring.” I couldn’t remember anything that came closer to an endorsement of a non-institutional film from a church leader, particularly in such an official context. Church made films are discussed, even shown all the time in conferences and Sunday School classes – the institutional film Man’s Search For Happiness was extensively quoted from yesterday – but films not made specifically for this purpose are rarely if ever seen. The reasons for this may be more cultural than doctrinal. In the first place, films do not have the same standing as other media, books for example. Speakers in General Conference have used a wide assortment of books to illustrate or provide a foil for righteous principles. The authors of these books are frequently heralded as inspired, despite their lack of the gospel fullness. Similarly, plays and even songs are regularly referenced. Visual artwork appears in more and more General Conference talks as well, whether it be photographs, reenactments of the stories the speaker tells, or paintings of a scriptural event. Any such citation in a General Conference talk is sure to live on in Sacrament Meeting talks or lessons for a long time. But films are a different ballgame. Perhaps because the medium is not as old, perhaps because it is seen in popular culture as a mode of entertainment rather than a serious forum for discussing ideas, film does not work its way into our teaching as often as other art forms. I asked my brother as we drove to the Stake Center last night whether he thought Mormons would ever get to that point culturally: when movies would be recognized as a legitimate source of inspiration and teaching as are books and other art. He didn’t know.
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