Don Argott Wants to Show the Faces Behind the Statistics
By Ashley Morton
The filmmaker explains why stories are stronger than stats, and the challenges of capturing the emotion of the LoveLoud Festival.
HBO: What first inspired you to make this film?
Don Argott: I actually met Dan [Reynolds] in April of last year, under the guise that he was looking for a director. At the time, Dan had wanted to do a documentary profiling characters on Fremont Street in Las Vegas.
HBO: What made you change directions?
Don Argott: You can’t start a project just rolling a camera, there has to be a reason, an “initial spark.” The more we spoke, it was very clear there was a lot of unfinished business in Dan’s Mormon past, so to speak.
There are people in the Mormon faith that really look at Dan as one of their own, and think he’s representing them. And on the other side, he’s got this LGBTQ fanbase, and he’s gotten them through difficult times in their life. He was caught between two worlds, and he decided he could either remain silent and continue the way he had, or use his platform to speak out. We knew that was the better and more relevant story so we had to pivot, and start making this new film.
HBO: The film starts by introducing the teen suicide rates in Utah, but as a whole, stays away from too many statistics. Could you speak to that decision?
Don Argott: The film isn't about statistics as much as it is about a problem going on in this community. The point is, if 10 kids committed suicide over this, then that would still be 10 kids too many. It’s less about needing to prove the problem, but showing the impact and the human face of it all.
HBO: How did you select the stories and people you featured in the film?
Don Argott: What I’m most proud of with the film is that it’s very immediate; everything was very much in the moment. It was, “Let’s immerse ourselves in this culture, who’s on the frontline?” The day at Encircle , we walked in without much of a plan, other than Dan wanted to meet and hear from people.
The greatest thing about doing a film like this is that one thing leads to the next. We descended on every lead we could, in order to get into this community and help tell their stories. I think the most important thing, once Dan decided to go on this journey, was to really learn from other people.
HBO: As someone who was basically an outsider to this community, what were you most surprised to learn while making the film?
Don Argott: There is a lot of good in Mormonism, like the idea of service and giving back, but it was really alarming to know about the escalating suicide rates in Utah’s LGBTQ community, and the pretty obvious connection between that and Mormon faith. That was incredibly heartbreaking.
I’m not religious at all, but the best I could do was be open-minded and try to help Dan tell his story, and in turn help people within this community tell their story. Because that’s the only thing that will create any kind of meaningful change: understanding the face behind this issue. If you don’t have evidence, it’s easier to say, “This is not my problem.” But when you get to know Tyler Glenn, or Alyson and George Powers, or Lance Lowry, it moves you. It compels you to have a change of heart if you came into it with preconceived notions.
HBO: What was the most challenging scene to film?
Don Argott: I was really looking forward to meeting Tyler, and hearing his story. He’s come out the other side of it, and that was an incredibly emotional experience. It’s a weird balance to walk because I didn’t want to minimize his story, but you have to be careful it doesn’t become his film all of a sudden. So it was challenging to put all together. He covers so much ground, which by that point, if you’re not invested, I can’t help you.
HBO: Was filming the festival different than other parts of the documentary?
Don Argott: Anything that culminates with a concert is challenging. The concerts in and of themselves, when done right, are super empowering. But it’s hard to capture the spirit or energy of what happened on film — you have to boil this amazing energetic day into this 20-minute segment. That day, all the speakers, and the music, everything that so perfectly came together but then you have to choose your soundbites, everything becomes very mechanical. That’s the challenge. We spent a lot of time to get it right. Looking back at it, I feel like we did pull off the ultimate feeling.
HBO: What do you hope viewers take from the film?
Don Argott: The thing that resonates with me, is this idea of following your heart and doing the right thing, in spite of the world saying it would be better off if you didn’t speak up. Use your voice, even in the smallest way; it doesn’t have to be on a 40,000 people scale.
A girl came up to us after a screening and said, “LoveLoud gave me the power to come out.” That’s incredible. And Tyler has said the film really helped him with his healing process. You can’t really ask for more as a filmmaker. And if it gets to be a piece of the larger puzzle to changing a policy, and create more inclusion, then that’s mission accomplished.
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