Doc filmmaker Don Argott discusses Dan Reynolds’ ‘Believer’
In a candid interview with the director and executive producer, Don Argott reveals Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds’ Believer is “doing something about injustice in a way that is not trying to destroy it from the outside, but rather fix it from the inside.”
Over an impressive career as a documentary filmmaker, you’ve tackled several subject matters from the NFL Draft, and Batman to the 2016 presidential election, and one of your most well-known documentaries The Atomic States of America. In terms of documenting, what is your process in determining what you want to share with the world?
It’s something that when you’re doing the work you’re never really looking with that long lens “what am I trying to convey here?” First and foremost your hunting for good stories. You want to be attracted to stories that are hidden in plain sight. It may be a little cliche or obvious but first and foremost you need a great story, great characters, you need access. Not having one of those elements can really screw you up.
So what struck you about Dan Reynolds’ story as “great”?
I got a call from my manager who said that Dan from Imagine Dragons is looking to do this TV show about these quirky character’s stories on Fremont Street [in Las Vegas]. So they put a presentation reel together for me and my thought was “okay, this is interesting because they have pretty heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking stories, but I had to ask myself ‘why does he want to do this?'” I needed to understand why I’m hearing from Dan about wanting to share other people’s stories.
I ended up meeting with Dan in person and once he started talking about the fact that he struggles with depression and growing up Mormon, and for me, he really seemed to be at a crossroads — a place I felt needed to be explored. So this whole thing was initially a completely different animal.
Within a couple weeks of working together, a whole new film came out of it. His struggles and what he’s been trying to reconcile came out the more I talked with him. And he had this breakthrough moment while we were filming about what was it about Mormonism, about being Mormon, about being faithful to the church, and about the issue of homosexuality. As we dug deeper into it, he recalled the time he first met his now wife who was living with two lesbians in California during the height of Prop 8 and how that was something very relevant to him during that time in his life. It was a sore spot for him that had a big affect on their relationship.
There were all these markers in Dan’s life that came back to this one issue [of homosexuality] of which he was “not okay with it, I don’t stand by it but, yet I can’t reconcile it so what am I going to do about it?” — which is where the rest of the film takes shape.
Tell moviegoers a little about the structure or narrative of the film, a few snippets of what they’ll see and hear.
The film is really from Dan’s perspective. We weren’t looking to do an expose on the Mormon church, it’s a character film about a person struggling with his faith, issues within the faith and the community. I think that’s what draws you in because Dan is such a likable person, and you root for him, and in my opinion on the right side of it all, and he’s showing the injustice. He’s doing something about it in a way that is not trying to destroy it from the outside, but rather fix it from the inside.
Any final thoughts, comments about the film?
When you’re trying to effect change in a positive way you do have to figure out how to work within the community to understand, to learn or show a side of someone’s lifestyle that they have a preconceived notion about and then seeing them on a human level. It’s harder to look away. I do think Dan tapped into something really powerful.
The world premiere of Believer opens at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Below is the screening schedule.
Saturday, Jan. 20, 8:45 p.m., The MARC Theatre, Park City
Sunday, Jan. 21, 6 p.m., Sundance Mountain Resort
Monday, Jan. 22, 6:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Center, SLC
Tuesday, Jan. 23, 10 p.m., Redstone Cinema, Park City
Saturday, Jan. 27, 9 p.m., Temple Theatre, Park City