Jon Garcia is not a Mormon. But he has written, produced and directed three films about two Mormon missionaries who fall in love. Over the course of those three films, they work to reconcile their romance with their faith, their families and with themselves.
The Portland-based Garcia and I had a couple of Skype chats about the third film, subtitled The Falls: Covenant of Grace – but the story of the third film actually begins with the story of the first.
“I had gone back to school for nursing and took a screenwriting class to keep the creative juices flowing,” Garcia explains about the origins of what eventually became a trilogy of films. “I started writing the screenplay in that class and ended up dropping those nursing classes to make the movie.”
Garcia, who was raised Catholic, had known a few gay Mormons who had gone on mission trips – which inspired the crux of The Falls story, but Garcia didn’t feel right about the first few drafts. “I just hadn’t done the research,” he admits. “So I went to an LDS church and spoke to a few missionaries there.”
That gave him a better idea of how the church worked and what missionaries do on those mission trips.
The Falls films star Nick Ferrucci and Benjamin Farmer as RJ and Chris, the two Mormons who fall in love with each other. Garcia had previously worked with Ferrucci on his first feature Tandem Hearts and had seen Farmer in a movie called The Roomies. He had them both in mind for their respective parts as he was writing the first film.
While writing the screenplay for the second film, subtitled The Falls: Testament of Love, Garcia talked to Breaking Glass Pictures at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, CA about the idea for a sequel. “When I got back to the car after that meeting with Breaking Glass, I called Ben and I called Nick and they were on board to see where this goes.”
But getting them back for the third film was a bit of a struggle. “I think they were ready to move on artistically. But they came on board and they didn’t hold back. They didn’t phone it in. We really wanted to make this the best of the three. That was our goal.”
Whereas the first film was about the impossibility of a life together because of the Church, The Falls: Testament to Love was a key step toward a life together despite the Church and The Falls: Covenant of Grace was about having it all – a life together with Chris’s daughter Kaylee within the Church. Because as the third film ultimately concludes in a great scene between Chris and his father Noah (Bruce Jennings), there is no difference between love and God – they are one and the same.
Interestingly, Noah’s evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage in that scene (where he tells Chris he is going to address the issue with the quorum) comes as the Mormon Church made some evolution of its own on the topic of homosexuality when it declared in late October that you can be Mormon and gay – complete with a website of information and resources. Perhaps this portends a possible reversal of its stance against same-sex marriage in the near future.
Since Garcia didn’t have any direct experience with the Mormon Church, all three Falls films read as more of a reflection of the Mormon Church than an indictment of it. “I wasn’t looking to indict the church at all. I had no reason to. I’m very respectful of people and their beliefs. [And] I like to learn as much about religions as I can,” he explains.
Garcia himself doesn’t go to church all the time, but when he does go, it’s the music that gets him there. “I have an intrinsic relationship with God. Sometimes I pray. But I can’t shake my relationship with God no matter what,” he declares – essentially mirroring RJ and Chris’s collective and individual struggle to pursue their relationship while still each maintaining one with God. “When I meet people who grew up in a religious environment or are still practicing, I can relate to them in a deeper way.”
In The Falls: Covenant of Grace, Garcia was also able to delve more into the sweeter, simpler moments of RJ and Chris’s relationship. “I tend to make these intimate scenes in all my films – quiet bedroom voices that’s just really sweet and delicate,” he explains. “[But] love and relationships are sometimes obnoxious and loud and your breath stinks (a reference to a really cute moment in The Falls: Covenant of Grace). I wish we had more time to get into some of that.”
Garcia has dashed all hope of a fourth film in the franchise, but reflects fondly on the trilogy. “These films are by far the most important thing I’ve done in my life. I’m very proud of them. Over the last six years, I can see myself over time grow as a filmmaker. To develop this series about sexuality and religion – two topics that aren’t infused enough, to have done that and to hear from people the film’s made an impact on, I could just weep. I feel wonderful about it, but I also feel this need to keep moving and put something else out right away.”
Something else to look forward to.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Jon Garcia