Mormon Artist

Kathryn Lee Moss

Kathryn Lee Moss is an Emmy-nominated director and writer who has worked in both live theatre and film for the past fifteen years. After receiving her BFA in theatre from Utah State University, Kathryn moved to London, England, where she received her master’s degree in directing from the University of London. Kathryn continues to write and direct for theaters, schools, and opera companies throughout the United States. She and her husband, Brandon, have three kids and live in West Jordan, Utah. Kathryn firmly believes in the power and responsibility of the arts to inspire, uplift, and heal. Website
Photo courtesy Kathryn Lee Moss

Resistance Movement tells the true story of three young men who form a resistance group led by Helmuth Hübener in Hamburg during the Nazi Germany period. What compelled you to write the play and eventually turn it into a movie?

It’s interesting that you used the word compelled in your question, because that’s exactly the way I felt. When I first heard the story I was blown away. The actions of these three boys moved me so powerfully and changed the way I thought about standing up for truth forever. I couldn’t keep something like that to myself, I simply had to be a part of sharing it.

I was very pleased with the stage play and initially I had no thought of turning it into a film. However, as I saw the effect it was having as a stage play, I began looking for ways to bring this story to even more people. It was having such a powerful effect on its audiences, and I wanted to share it with as many people as I could. We decided to film a trailer for the stage play, and it was while we were editing the footage that we saw how powerful it could be as a film.

The film version is quite stylized as far as the sets are concerned and throughout the film you opt for a mise en scène that clearly stresses the theatrical roots of the piece. To what extent was that strictly linked to budgetary considerations, or was it a deliberate aesthetic choice?

One of the things that makes live performance so powerful is the way it engages the audience’s imagination, making the experience more immediate and personal. In adapting Resistance Movement to film I really wanted to keep that aspect of it, while adding in the scope and detail of a feature film. So the stylization was really born out of what I love about theatre, what I love about film, and looking for a way to take the best of both of those worlds to create something unique and powerful. Honestly, I am thrilled with the way it turned out. Not having so much in the background to distract your eye really rivets your attention to the story and the characters. It also helps us as audience members to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations, which helps us relate our own lives to the historical events more easily. History can become meaningless if we cannot find a way to relate its lessons to our own lives today.

Was it cheaper than shooting on location? Yes, but it certainly wasn’t the easier choice! And it wasn’t money that drove the decision to do it that way. If we didn’t feel it was the best choice artistically for this film at this time, we wouldn’t have done it.

Were there any major changes or modifications you had to consider when adapting the play into the film medium?

Because you can get so much visual detail in a film, it was important to make sure that the dialogue wasn’t redundant to what the audience was watching. For example, in the play version I might need a character to give a verbal answer to a question, but on film I was able to have them just answer with a look instead of actually saying something. So there were lots of little things like that. The biggest change, though, was that in the play version there are also Nazi radio broadcasts linking the scenes as a parallel to the BBC broadcasts, but in the film it started to feel too wordy. We were able to get the same progression of ideas across by using a set of Nazi posters that Rudi passes out on the streets.

Photo courtesy Kathryn Lee Moss

To what extent did the 2002 documentary Truth and Conviction and Rudi Wobbe’s own biography (Three Against Hitler) help shape both the content and the structure of the play? Did you use other sources? Were you familiar with the play version written by Tom Rogers and staged at BYU back in 1976?

That’s the great thing about the arts, isn’t it? There isn’t just one right way to tell a story. Yes, in doing initial research, these were a few of the many, many sources which I looked at. However, all of us saw the story a little bit differently and sought to focus on different aspects of it in our various versions. There didn’t exist a version that told the story in the way I felt it most deeply, so I added my own voice to the mix.

There is a certain responsibility when writing about someone who really lived, to write the characters in such a way that will be true to the person’s spirit and intent. Thankfully, very detailed records were kept of all the political prisoners at the time, which were very helpful. Also, Rudi and Karl talked about their experiences quite a bit in later years, and in addition to their books, we have recordings of talks and personal histories that really helped me to get a feel for their personality, style, and relationships. Although oftentimes it was the things they didn’t say that proved to be more telling than the things they did say!

So naturally, I read and watched anything I could get my hands on that talked about these three boys, but what came out of that research is my own unique take on the events, shaped in a way that felt the most impactful for me.

In the movie no mention is made of the three young men’s membership in the Church. Why so, and is that the case in the play as well?

Yes, both the play and the film are non-denominational. It is one of the things I thought and prayed earnestly about from the very beginning. I just felt that for this particular version, it was important to keep it non-denominational. Rudi himself said that it was not a story just for Mormons, but a story for everybody. The boys’ faith plays a large role in the story, yes, but faith and courage and standing for truth are not Mormon-specific themes. It is easy enough to find out that they are Mormon—one Google search will tell you that—but I wanted the film to be as accessible as possible for people of all faiths. Because of its non-denominational stance, we have been able to take this film where other Mormon films are not welcome and touch people who would not have been exposed to it otherwise.

Photo courtesy Kathryn Lee Moss

How was the film received when screened at the 2013 LDS Film Festival in Orem?

We’ve had outstanding audience response from all of the film festivals we’ve played at, and the 2013 LDS Film Festival was no exception to that. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room by the end. We had a great question and answer session and overwhelmingly positive response from the audience members.

What kind of awards or nominations has the movie garnered so far?

Resistance Movement won the Faith Builder Award, which was a top prize at the San Diego Christian Film Festival in 2012. It has also played the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, where we were a semi-finalist for their top Jubilee prize. Last year Resistance Movement took home two Filmed In Utah Awards for Best Ensemble Cast and Best Original Score, and was a finalist for several others, including Best Feature and Best Screenplay.

How many productions of the play have there been so far? Have you been satisfied by the productions that have been staged? Given the nature of the piece, do you foresee a number of amateur or school theatre companies being interested in staging it as well?

There have been a handful of staged readings at a variety of theaters. And there has been one fully staged production that did a mini-tour in Utah in 2010. I have been very happy with the productions, because each one has managed to capture the spirit and essence of what this story is about and leave the audience changed for good. Each one has been an amazing spiritual and emotional journey for those involved and I wouldn’t change them.

However, I do not feel that its journey as a stage play is finished. What I love about theatre is that it is always changing and growing. You get a new cast, a new director, or even just a new audience, and the experience becomes new, responding to the different energy and unique experiences of the people involved. I would absolutely love to see amateur or school theatre companies stage Resistance Movement. What a great way for school students to really get inside history and understand the issues at stake! The people of all ages who have participated in it thus far have been profoundly changed for the better. I would love for more people to have that opportunity.

Photo courtesy Kathryn Lee Moss

You are on record as being keen to go to schools and do a presentation of the piece in order to discuss the issues raised by the film. Do you rely on a standard presentation or do you adapt it in relation to the age and grade of the pupils?

I have had the opportunity to speak to youth and adults in high schools, film classes, youth groups, church groups, and even youth in a juvenile detention. We usually share the film first, followed by a presentation and/or question and answer session. I do have certain messages, which are key to the film, that I always try to share, regardless of the situation. However, I do adapt the presentation depending on the audience. I am very prayerful about what messages the Lord wants me to share with each individual group. Because of this, even similar audiences may get a different presentation. Each presentation has truly been a wonderful experience.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to share this amazing story and see the lives of others touched through it. Every time I share, I am grateful again for Rudi, Helmuth, and Karl and all those who stand for truth. It is truly a privilege to share.

Do you foresee a day when the play might be staged in Germany, and specifically in Hamburg itself?

Honestly, I am overwhelmed with emotion even at the thought of that possibility. What a tribute for Rudi, Helmuth, and Karl to have their story told in such a way in their homeland. I truly hope it does happen, and I hope that when it does, I will get to be there!

The film version was recently screened in Brussels, Belgium, as part of the Mormon Arts and Culture Festival, and you were involved in supervising the subtitling process. It is expected that as a result, the film will soon be showcased in various LDS centers in francophone countries such as France and the Ivory Coast. How does that make you feel and what do you hope people from such various cultural backgrounds might take from the story?

I can’t adequately put into words how thrilled I am to see this film spreading to so many different people around the world. When I first began writing Resistance Movement, I was a young mom, living in a dark basement apartment, with a brand new baby, and struggling with depression. I felt so alone. But then I had an amazingly beautiful and personal spiritual experience that helped me to know that I was not alone. I decided to start writing this play for a little creative outlet and poured the heart of my experience into it. I wrote and wrote and suddenly the writing was not for myself anymore, but for others. What do I hope people all around the world will get out of Resistance Movement? I hope that they will leave this film with a greater commitment to stand up for truth and righteousness—no matter the consequences. And above all, I hope they will know that they, too, are never alone.

In Germany at least, a large number of material (in the form of books and films in particular) have been produced over the decades with regards to the courageous stand taken by young Sophie Scholl and the White Rose group against the Nazi regime. Her actions and her demise have some striking similarities with the Hübener group. Still, why do you suppose that the Hübener group did not receive similar attention or the same level of recognition? Do you believe that by writing the play and directing the film, you are contributing to redress the balance to some extent?

You are right, there are a lot of similarities between Helmuth Hübener and Sophie Scholl and their resistance efforts, and I am equally grateful for and inspired by them both. I think one of the main reasons the Hübener group has not received similar attention is simply because it took much longer for their story to be widely known. Their operations were so small and there were only the three of them, as opposed to the somewhat larger numbers of the White Rose. After Helmuth’s execution, that left only Rudi and Karl to share their story, and both immigrated to the United States shortly after the war and were somewhat reluctant to relive the horrific things they had endured. So it is not surprising that it has taken longer for their story to be uncovered. It wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to redress the balance, but I did feel that Helmuth, Rudi, and Karl’s story should be more widely known than it has been, and I hope this play and film can help accomplish that.

Photo courtesy Kathryn Lee Moss

You recently participated in the 2013 edition of a prominent religious festival in Italy. How was the movie received by the audience? Were Church members present at the screening? You also had the opportunity to participate in a conference on faith as part of the festival and to talk to the head of the White Rose in Italy. Could you share some of the impressions and experiences you had while on your whirlwind tour in Europe to promote the film?

Participating in the Religion Today Film Festival was one of the best experiences of my life. I got to share my film and my beliefs with people from all over the world and of many different nationalities and religions. I was the first Mormon to ever participate in the festival, and it was a really positive experience for everyone. It was so humbling to see that the story of Rudi, Helmuth, and Karl resonates across cultural and religious boundaries and differences. The Spirit truly communicates in any language. So many people were quite touched by the film and shared their personal experiences trying to make a difference in their own countries.

The festival also included a daily workshop on religion, titled “Reality and Utopia.” I was asked to present a talk on the topic of faith and it was a very powerful experience. All the other talks were very academic and were presented by professors and professionals. I got up and said, “This talk is going to be very different from what you’ve heard so far. Faith is so personal to me that I only know how to talk about it in a personal way.” Then I shared that experience I had which led me to write Resistance Movement. Basically, I just bore my testimony of faith. The spirit in the room was very strong and everyone was very surprised and moved. For the entire rest of the week, people would speak to me about my talk and tell me how powerful it was. I know that they felt that, because they were feeling the Spirit of God.

While in Italy I had the chance to meet with Fabio Caneri, the president of the White Rose in Italy. It was really a fantastic meeting and we spoke a lot about the need for us as individuals to try to make a difference no matter what the outcome is. We also spoke of the need to get young people more involved in helping shape the world around them. Fabio had never heard of the story of the Hübener group before my film, and he was quite inspired by it and by the courage of the three boys.

Yes, we were lucky enough to have some members of the Church from Trento and Verona attend the screening of Resistance Movement. It really meant a lot to me to have them come and support me even though they had never met me before. It was a great thing for them to learn about the festival and for the participants in the festival to meet them as well. There was talk on both sides of the Church being more involved in the festival in the future, so I am certainly hoping that is the case. It is a really good thing for us to learn more and understand more about one another and really recognize the many things we have in common.

How does the gospel influence your work?

The gospel is really a huge influence on my work. For one thing, it influences which shows I pick to direct and the themes I choose to write about. That doesn’t necessarily mean all my work is religious, but truth is still truth, no matter where you find it. It also influences my writing and directing process. No matter what I’m working on, whether it’s a spiritual film or a fun piece of children’s theatre, I am very prayerful about it and I really try to go about working in a way that is conducive to the Spirit, so that I can be as open as possible to inspiration and guidance, and so that the atmosphere I create as a director can be one of emotional safety and creative joy for everyone involved. ❧

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