Producer/Director Xan Aranda is part of the exciting new wave of young filmmakers at Kartemquin inciting critical buzz. She first became affiliated with the organization in early 2007, as the Associate Producer of Milking the Rhino and later became the film's Global Outreach Coordinator. Xan also handles broadcast, outreach, and community engagement for Gordon Quinn's Prisoner of Her Past.
She is working on the demo for her new documentary, Mormon Movie with co-producer Rachel Pikelny (A Good Man) and Aaron Wickenden (The Interrupters). The film explores Xan’s personal connection to the Mormon filmmaking community, which is based in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Her directorial debut, Andrew Bird: Fever Year had its world premiere at the prestigious New York Film Festival and is described by the Film Society of Lincoln Center as a "cunning hybrid of documentary and concert film." The Hollywood Reporter calls Fever Year "a gently illuminating look at a brilliant maverick musician... captured with grace and delicacy." Edited by KTQ's Liz Kaar, the film is screening at festivals worldwide, most often to sold-out houses. Andrew Bird: Fever Year received Omaha Film Festival's Jury Prize for Best Documentary and the Audience Award from San Francisco's 20th Anniversary Noise Pop Music & Film Festival.
Xan Aranda was interviewed by Summer '11 intern Mary Horan:
Why did you decide to make Mormon Movie with Kartemquin?
X: I think a common misconception is that just because I'm an associate with Kartemquin, I can just make my film here. I'm a freelancer - I get hired project to project. I had to pitch Mormon Movie several rounds, massage the story, see if we had a match. In filmmaking, you have to clear out the noise of survival and logistics and really look at the film, listen to what it's telling you, what it wants to be. I actually believe Mormon Movie already exists in many ways; our job is to give it a place to be.
Kartemquin and I continue to find there's a match here, that what the film is examining is in line with the org's principals. This is a place where I’m stimulated, supported, and share a sensibility with my colleagues. I also trust them to disagree with me, which is important.
What inspired you to make this film?
X: Mormon Movie was inspired by a short film called “Summer of Decision” which my mother starred in while a student at BYU in 1964 - where she met my father. It's a cautionary tale, an educational film made by the Mormon church about marriage and decision-making - it plays like a really great B-movie. I grew up in the faith and always knew "Summer" existed - what I didn't know was this entire history of the BYU Motion Picture Studio, which was formed by the church in the 1950s.
At 18, I knew I wanted to go to film school and considered going to BYU - which had a good film program then and would turn out Jared and Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Kurt Hale (The R.M.) - but I suspected I wasn't going to stay Mormon.
When I was 20, I left the church quietly. I started exploring on my own and felt a clear pathway away from it. But seven years later, I was in Salt Lake City visiting my sisters, and saw a billboard for a film called The R.M. - The Return Missionary. It was a family comedy, and I later learned that it was a crazy hit in Utah. It filled theaters and became a cult favorite. Everyone has their jokes from that movie. So I put those things together and thought: “wow - while I was gone, plenty was happening without me.”
Is it hard putting yourself in front of the camera on such a personal level for this film?
X: The experience so far has been horrifying, visceral, and exciting - and I don't expect that to stop. I come from a family of nine and everyone is very distinct, intelligent, emotional. They're supportive. Throughout this process, each of them will choose their individual level of comfort with the project. The two films my mother starred in are perfect compliments to each other, visually and thematically - true treasures that play into so many threads of our ancestry and future that I can't not make this film.