Gay-rights groups upset after Utah theater drops movie

The Associated Press/January 20, 2004

Salt Lake City -- Gay and lesbian groups are upset that a movie theater has dropped plans to screen a new romantic comedy involving a gay man and a closeted Mormon missionary.

"This is a film that needs to be seen and needs to be heard, particularly in a city that has a large Mormon population," said Stephen Macias, entertainment media director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "It is a story that someone is trying to suppress."

"Latter Days" is about a West Hollywood hunk who tries to seduce a sexually confused Mormon missionary. Though it's a comedy, the move does depict church leaders trying to "cure" the missionary's homosexuality through electroshock.

The movie was written and directed by C. Jay Cox, who wrote the Reese Witherspoon film, "Sweet Home Alabama." It has won audience awards at six gay-themed film festivals.

It opens Friday in Los Angeles and New York, and was scheduled to open Friday at the Madstone Trolley Square Theaters.

But last Friday the film's distributor, TLA Releasing, was informed by Madstone's film booker that the New York-based theater chain would cancel the film's Salt Lake City run.

TLA Releasing President Raymond Murray said he was told that the movie did not meet Madstone's level of "artistic quality and integrity." Murray said he was told the Trolley Square theater received threats of boycotts, pickets and customers dropping out of Madstone's membership program.

Chip Seelig, co-chief executive of the Madstone theater chain, said several of his staff watched the movie, and "we thought it lacked artistic merit. If it has merit, we play it."

Seelig said he had not heard of any boycott threats.

The mix of gay themes and religion are not a turnoff to Madstone, Seelig said, citing the acclaimed documentary "Trembling Toward G-d" - about homosexuality among Hasidic Jews - as an example.

Brooke Harper, president of the Salt Lake Film Society, which operates the art house Tower Theatre and Broadway Centre Cinemas, said the quality of "Latter Days" may indeed be the issue. She called the movie "awful" and "embarrassing," and said she had no plans to book it.

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