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Thomas: Mormon upbringing fuels unique coming-of-ager

10 Directors to Watch 2013: Rebecca Thomas

Rebecca Thomas attributes her distinct filmmaking vision to a unique upbringing: “I grew up as a Mormon in Las Vegas, surrounded by all things holy and righteous, but with Sin City just at my periphery. It was an interesting way to grow up.”

Indeed, Thomas’ debut feature “Electrick Children,” which premiered in Berlin and earned her a Spirit Award Someone to Watch nomination, presents a perfect marriage of Thomas’ opposing sides. In the film, a 15-year-old pregnant girl leaves an ultraconservative desert cult to seek out the father of her “immaculate conception” in nearby Vegas.

Thomas, who defines herself as an “inactive” Mormon, began researching fundamentalist Mormons for a documentary while studying film at Brigham Young. (During these formative years, she also embarked on a Mormon mission to Japan, and wrote, edited and acted in a 13-minute short called “Nobody Knows You, Nobody Gives a Damn,” about a mother struggling with postpartum depression, which premiered at Sundance in 2009.)

Later, at Columbia U.’s film program, she came up with the idea for “Electrick Children,” which was guided in part by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew.” “He takes a fairly neutral and nonjudgmental approach to the New Testament,” she says. “It was also important for me to keep my version of the Virgin Mary story as grounded as I could, even though I was dealing with the supernatural: I like to ground things that are fantastical to understand them more.”

These days, Thomas is reading scripts; developing a post-apocalyptic adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” set in Japan, which combines puppetry, animation and live-action; and working on another script called “Miss New York,” about a young woman who finds her doppelganger in Miss New York. “It’s a suspense noir with beauty queens,” she says.

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