Local Artist Presenting His Film "Art and Belief" In A Free Screening This Week

Sep 4, 2018

Credit Nathan Florence

The Park City Film Series is launching its Made in Utah program with a free screening this Thursday.

The film, “Art and Belief” presented as a work in progress, is a documentary about a group of artists, their work, and their struggle to find their place within the LDS Church.

The director and writer of the film, Nathan Florence, is a local artist who told KPCW last week that he’s primarily an oil painter.

“My background is a little bit funny to be a documentary filmmaker, but I’ve always thought of my paintings as almost film stills. Like an element of a story I’ve always been interested in story. Ya know, artists wear a lot of hats.” Florence also said he’s the artist in residence for the middle school portion of the Weilenmann School of Discovery in Park City.

He said the film is about the late artist Trevor Southey, and a group around him known as the “Art and Belief” movement. He said Southey grew up in British Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) converted to the LDS faith and came to BYU.

“He’s a gay man who had joined the Mormon church, had a family was told that would be the cure for his homosexuality. (He) was kind of an art star in the church. It was collected by tons of different people (who have) pieces and collections. Orrin Hatch has a painting of his, his paintings are all over the place. Then this group of artists became his advocates and really helped him to eventually come out which meant a very public excommunication from the church and losing his family. Then his journey to eventual reconciliation with the church and with his family.”

The group, which also includes Dennis Smith, Gary Earnest Smith, and Neil Hadlock met at BYU. Some of them became art professors there. All of them faced a struggle within their religion.

“The struggle these artists dealt with is that they really felt like this was their calling. To create this art that was deeply spiritual and reflected their faith, but it never really resonated with the leadership of the church. They had to try to figure out how to make sense of that. How do you follow what you feel your spiritual calling is, in the face of what you consider your spiritual home, and yet not have that work? Not have that be in harmony with each other.”

He said the major artistic figures in the group ended up in different places.

“They all became very successful artists in their own right. That’s part of what intrigued me about this story is that we’ve got these four core members of this art movement. (Gary Earnest Smith) still does a lot of work for the church and is a very active member of the church, teaches gospel doctrine. Dennis is sort of an active agnostic, he’s very happy to be in the community but he’ll kind of see how it goes. Neil has chosen to leave, and Trevor was excommunicated. There’s really this full range of the spectrum and yet they’re all very close and really have found the sort of harmony that they were looking for maybe in the church community, from their art community.”

Florence said he grew up in the Church and looked to Southey’s group as an example for himself.

He said he has submitted the film to the Sundance Festival.

It’s called a “work in progress” for the screening on Thursday, 7:00 pm at the Jim Santy Auditorium. Florence wants to see the audience’s response and will conduct a Q and A discussion afterwards.

While the event is free, he would appreciate any donations. He said they need about $100,000 to finish up the film.

“We’re to the final expensive editing stage. The things that really take a film from one that you might see that someone made at home. That sound sweetening, the soundtrack, the composer, color correction, all of those things that make it flow without any sort of glitches that might pop you out of the story. Almost all of it is high definition digital, and then actually some of the art we’re shooting in 4K, so it just has some incredible definition on the images.”