An Unruly Faith


TYPE
: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production

LOGLINE

A young, devout activist challenges the male hierarchy of the Mormon Church by invigorating a movement to ordain women to the priesthood, and upon being exiled as a heretic, rocks the Church and redefines her own salvation.  

SYNOPSIS

“I’m a Mormon. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m an aunt. I’m an international human rights lawyer. I’m a returned missionary and Brigham Young University grad. And - I think Mormon women should be ordained.”

With these words, a brash, idealistic activist named Kate Kelly launches a movement, confronts the foundation of an institution, and redefines her own faith. An Unruly Faith is her story.

Born and raised in the Mormon religion, Kate served as an overseas missionary, attended a Mormon university, and married in the Mormon temple. Devout, she understood the Church to be an institution that valued her inquisitive mind and leadership potential. It taught her to “knock”, and to “ask questions”. She obeyed and asked: why are only men able to hold the priesthood?

An Unruly Faith opens in 2014 as Kate asks this question by launching Ordain Women, a small group of Mormon women unified in an appeal to permit female priests. The film follows the group over the subsequent year, as they organize, form a board, and stage a series of creatively mischievous and assertive public actions. These actions attract hundreds of followers from around the world, amplify whispered conversations about power and equality in the Mormon faith, and bring the divisive issue of female ordination squarely into the public eye. Kate’s experience builds on a legacy of Mormon women who have publicly fought for equality in the Church and been punished for their efforts by excommunication.

To be excommunicated in the Mormon faith is to be removed from the family, the community, the way of life, and the afterlife; it is a spiritual condemnation, and an erasure of religious identity. Rarely practiced and strident in tone, it shames, silences, and seeks repentance, and serves as a punitive message to others among the flock that may be considering similar behavior. With the threat of excommunication, the Church has, over its history, suppressed dissent. It is particularly good at sidelining intellectually progressive women leaders.

Kate and the members of Ordain Women believe that times have changed, and that the internet is the game changer—a force more powerful than the Church’s practice of excommunicating women. The age of social media and a plethora of online forums dedicated to Mormon progressive thought—collectively known as the “bloggernacle”—is propelling the movement by giving space for Mormon women to freely question church policy in an unprecedented climate of safety and unity. The Church will be obliged to recognize them, and engage.

Wrong. A year after founding Ordain Women, Kate is excommunicated.

Devastated, Kate retreats to Kenya with her husband. Over the coming months, she suffers the emotional and spiritual upheaval historically experienced by excommunicated Mormon women: she is marginalized, her family is ostracized, and her marriage unravels. Ordain Women loses its charismatic leader and is left trembling. From the outside, it appears the Church has successfully disposed of a perceived outlier, and resumed order.

But there are cracks. Even some practicing Mormons who consider Kate’s style to be aggressive and disrespectful find the excommunication to be extreme, and more progressive believers do not recognize charity in the Church’s decision. Despite the Church’s attempt to contain the polarizing narrative, they lose members because of the scandal, and rumors circulate that participation by women in the church falls by 15 percent. University professors begin to study Ordain Women as an example of a successful social movement. A document is leaked on the WikILeaks-inspired “MormonLeaks” citing Ordain Women as one of the most pressing threats to the Mormon Church. A multitude of changes occur for women within the Mormon Church, everything from women praying in the biannual conference for the first time to temple baptisms available to menstruating women. Stories circulate of discrete challenges by devout Mormon women, like women refusing to wear the restrictive, female-only veil in the temple to the insistence that women can serve as “witnesses” during temple marriages, previously only available to men. All these changes have occurred since the inception of Ordain Women.

Meanwhile, in exile, Kate finds her faith turned inside out, and she begins to question the personal relevance of the Church and the men who control it. Upon returning from Africa, instead of repenting, she begins to recompose her life as a different kind of activist, one who has stopped seeking permission and instead finds it within. She leaves her job in Washington DC to return to the heart of the beast - Salt Lake City, Utah - as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. She resigns from the board of Ordain Women, citing it as too submissive. She redefines her mission from challenging the Mormon patriarchy to challenging patriarchy in all its myriad forms and manifestations, and founds her own law firm focusing on the human rights of women. And in 2016, Kate ordains herself, via the internet, to officiate at her gay brother’s wedding.

An Unruly Faith is the story of a woman who challenges a Goliath and loses, only to return to find she has fractured the ground on which the behemoth stood. By following Kate’s story through the creation and controversial actions of Ordain Women, through her personal excommunication and exile, through the volcanic adolescence that often accompanies religious dissassociation, and finally her return to the public eye, the film explores what it means to question a formidable authority, at great personal risk. It is a story of a unique woman, fighting an anachronistic institution and the inevitable choir that grows when one voice is silenced.
 

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

An Unruly Faith will incorporate verite, archival, and interview footage of the characters and events leading up to Kate’s excommunication, including the initial launch of the movement, the swift momentum of Ordain Women’s rise, and the public actions held in Salt Lake City.

Archival footage about the Church’s structure and hierarchy, along with leaked documents about the Church, will be used to establish the stakes that Kate and her fellow activists faced when approaching the Church with this challenge; stakes not necessarily understood by audiences that grew up in more secular environments.

Animation will be used to illustrate two parallel storylines that portray who Kate is. The first will illustrate journal entries and letters written home from Kate’s days as a Mormon missionary – during which she was solely dedicated to developing her faith and bringing others into the fold. The second parallel animation will illustrate the letters written during her time of exile, after the excommunication in Kenya, when her faith disintegrated. The style of these animations will mimic the classic illustrations of childhood Bible stories, with a modern twist, and play with how in many of those images, women are marginalized in the frame, or left out altogether. Animation will also be used to augment the visual portrayal of the “bloggernacle”.

In feel, the film aims to carry audiences through Kate’s experience: her lifelong practice of the faith, the momentum of hope that builds as the movement grows, the tension between the activists and the Church, the crushing fall of the excommunication, the ups and downs after excommunication, and her continuing call to action to bring to task exclusive, paternal institutions.

 

KEY CREW

Cindy Reid - Director and Producer

Cindy holds B.A.in English from BYU and an M.Ed from UNLV. For 13 years she was a professor of English at the College of Southern Nevada and served on the Nevada State Board of Education. Cindy left her teaching position five years ago to start a production company, Powerhouse Productions, and pursue her dream of making films. A formerly practicing Mormon, her first film project, “Through Eden”, explored a group of devout Mormon women questioning their faith. She has also published on the popular Mormon blog, Feminist Mormon Housewives. An Unruly Faith is her first feature documentary.

Fodé Diop - Cinematographer

Born and raised in Senegal, West Africa, Fodé came to the United States in 1994 to attend college and study Mathematics and Computer Science. An interest in photography and love of storytelling developed into a passion for Cinematography and Filmmaking. Credits include: “Fashion Alley: Behind The Scenes” (shot, edited and scored), and “Leaving Las Vegas” (shot with a Canon 7D and iPhone).

 

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