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by Talena Sanders
color and b&w, 70 min, 2013
in English


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Liahona is an experimental documentary examining the culture, history, and lived experience of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often referred to as the Mormon faith. The film creates a portrait of Mormonism through documentation of LDS cultural dominance in Utah, the suppressed history of folk magic in the early church, landmark Mormon life experiences, and Sanders' personal history and connection to the church. Found media with the voices of outsiders and insiders illuminate a religion that intrigues many, but is seen as mysterious or inaccessible. Liahona shifts through perspectives on the faith — from reverence to questioning, presenting the complexities of the vast institution of Mormonism contrasted with the tenuity of individual faith.

Liahona is an examination of how mysticism becomes mundane, the balance and the tension in Mormon life experience between the illogical and the pedestrian, the public face of Mormonism and gaps in accessibility. What is it about the Mormons that make them so distinctively different? Recorded on 16mm film, Liahona traverses Utah, Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois and Independence, Missouri to piece together this portrait of a faith.

“An arresting, deceptively low-key indictment of Mormonism composed almost entirely of found footage.” — Tony Pipolo, ArtForum
“Sanders interpolates her found sounds and sights with original 16mm Bolex footage of landscapes and town streets, sometimes containing people posed as though waiting for something left up to us to fill in. Liahona encourages us to look not at costumes, but at faces, and bring ourselves to people whose lives could easily be ours. It does so even while shifting gradually from a study of Mormon life in general to one particular life, as Sanders' own voice enters the film's soundtrack to recite texts, sing songs, and ask her Mormon parents questions about their Church experiences.” — Aaron Cutler, Filmmaker Magazine
“An accomplished experimental feature... The wide-ranging Liahona is neither a straightforward indictment nor a reconciled embrace, but a story inextricable from its artist's own.” — Genevieve Yue, Reverse Shot

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Winner, CAMIRA Jury Prize, International Competition, Play-Doc, Tui, Spain, 2015
Experimental Film Club, Irish Film Institute, Dublin, 2015
Montreal International Documentary Film Festival (RIDM), 2014
Indie Festival (Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo, Brazil), 2014
Marseille International Documentary Film Festival (FID Marseille), 2014
New York Film Festival Views From the Avant-Garde, 2013

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts