Mormon Imagine Dragons singer tells his story at Sundance world premiere of 'Believer'

Dan Reynolds appears in Believer by Don Argott, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Don Argott)

(KUTV) You might never have expected a Sundance Film Festival movie made by a believing Mormon rock star for a Mormon every-person audience about a Mormon-attended LGBTQ festival in Utah County.

"The Mormon Woodstock," as it is called by one of the subjects in the film.

But "Believer" held its world premiere Saturday night in Park City, with the title referring both to the faith of the frontman for Imagine Dragons -- singer and songwriter Dan Reynolds -- and to the band's number one hit song of the same name that is used throughout the film.

Already purchased by HBO a few weeks ago, it tells a distinctly Utah story, a story about the LDS church and yet also a story about one man, Reynolds, and a cast of supporting characters from his life who populate the film.

Adding to the seemingly unlikely documentary is another famously Mormon-rooted frontman, Tyler Glenn of the Neon Trees. He admits in the film he hoped his destination for his two-year LDS mission would be to somewhere exotic like Japan. Instead he was assigned to Nebraska -- exactly where Reynolds was sent. It is probably safe to say that with over 400 missions in the world created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only one has ever produced two world-famous rock vocalists.

But the story is focused on Reynolds, alarmed and disturbed by the high suicide rate among Utah teens, and his efforts to hold a festival-type concert that welcomed both the LDS community and the LGBTQ community to start a respectful dialog. Part of his effort included visiting KUTV and talking about his passion project. Later, the LDS church issued a statement supporting the festival before it took place Aug. 26.

We applaud the LoveLoud Festival for LGBT youth's aim to bring people together to address teen safety and to express respect and love for all of God’s children.

Saturday night the musicians, along with director Don Argott and others in, or important to the film, including the production team, Steve and Barbara Young, Reynold's musician wife Aja Volkman and podcast host John Dehlin, were on hand to see the film with an audience for the first time.

"At the end of the day, what we were trying to explore is not to make something to attack Mormons," Reynolds said after the film. "I am Mormon. Do you think I want Mormons to look even worse than we already look? No. I have to do all those interviews with press who hate Mormons."

His film, and his post-film Q&A drew laughs and tears from those assembled -- just like the film did.

"I know there are going to be a lot of people around the world who are going to see this film and say, 'Leave the church. That's your answer.' I think that is a really bad answer. I think that is an uniformed, uneducated answer for a lot of reasons.

Reynolds said children risking family relationships by leaving the LDS church is not a safe answer.

"I am not a spiritual advisor. I don't know the answer ... other than if you are happy with what the gospel is doing in your life, then that is what you should do. But if it's unhealthy, you know, follow your heart."

Reynolds was adamant in the film leading up to the festival that it wasn't about pointing fingers at LDS members or the LDS church but was to create a safe space and encourage dialog.

After the screening however he was clear about a hoped-for result and said he spoke with two high level LDS leaders who said there were aware of the suicide problem among Utah teens and it was breaking their hearts.

"I have to say to the [LDS] church, 'rad. Thank you. Rad.' This is a step forward. Let's have this dialog, let's work together ... I feel pretty damn sure the [religious] policies have to change. You can tell someone all day 'I love you, I love you.' But that is not going to fix the problem. If you are telling them their innate sense of love and being is broken or flawed you will have this problem -- always."

"Believer," plays four more times at the Sundance festival.

Sun. 1/21, 6:00 p.m., Sundance Resort, Provo

Mon. 1/22, 6:30 p.m., Wagner, SLC

Tue. 1/23, 10:00 p.m., Redstone 2, PC

Sat. 1/27, 9:00 p.m., Temple, PC

Reynolds said there is some discussion about screening the film in theaters in Utah and suggested to the audience it would be a good time to put pressure on HBO to make it happen.

KUTV film critic Ryan Painter will write a review of the film.

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