In Department of Theatre and Media Arts, Experiential Learning

Director Barrett Burgin and producer John Newton reflect on the role their beliefs played in the development and production of university-funded capstone film “Father of Man”

Barrett Burgin (right) and actor Reese Phillip Purser walk out onto the Bonneville Salt Flats. (Ariela Moran Councill)

As directing student Barrett Burgin contemplated story ideas he could pitch as a potential media arts fiction capstone, he found himself being pulled in a direction he didn’t expect. Burgin had long been interested in directing thrillers and telling stories with a dark psychological element — especially narratives which pull from local culture and lore — but this time around he felt inspiration coming from an even more personal influence in his life: his own faith.

“Father of Man” follows Boyd, a man who passes into the next life following a heart attack, leaving behind a complicated relationship with his estranged son, Emmett. Upon arriving on the other side, Boyd is recruited by an angel assigned to watch over Emmett, who is facing an urgent situation: Emmett is contemplating leaving his wife and unborn child as he questions his role as a future father. Boyd must confront his own unresolved feelings toward his son as he tries to guide Emmett away from making the worst decision of his life.

“I thought it would be interesting to explore strained family relationships in an authentic way, without any fluff,” said Burgin, who both wrote and directed the film. “I also wanted to incorporate a kind of spirituality. It’s a family drama set in a world with Latter-day Saint aesthetics and imagery, but it’s not a religious film — this is a universal human story set within a context that is personal to me.”

Both Burgin and producer John Newton were interested in telling a story where elements of faith and doctrine are a part of the world the characters inhabit, but are not thematically overt or central to the enjoyment of the film. There are no specific references to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or even to God, but the student filmmakers also didn’t shy away from the undeniable influence their beliefs have on their art and their lives.

“Even if you don’t share our faith, Latter-day Saint doctrine provides cool explanations for how the world works,” said Newton. “We didn’t want to ignore that. We as film students sometimes get scared of making ‘cheesy church films,’ and we go in the opposite direction. We tried to instead embrace our faith and beliefs, and I think we were blessed for it.”

Looking back, Burgin and Newton can identify blessings every step of the way in the production of the ambitious film — which ultimately clocked in at a 28-minute runtime, 10-16 minutes longer than a typical capstone.

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