A Mormon president? New film shows links between Smith, Romney

Published: Saturday, Nov. 24 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

Darren Kendrick portrays Joseph Smith in the new documentary "A Mormon President," which examines Mitt Romney's bid for the White House.

Creek Park Pictures

Providing a balanced portrayal of either LDS Church founder Joseph Smith or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has proven daunting for even the most experienced historians, political scientists and journalists.

But keeping that balance while intermingling the stories of how both Mormon men became candidates for president of the United States isn't something anyone has accomplished yet — let alone in only 60 minutes on film. Yet that's exactly what a young filmmaker said he has attempted in a new documentary, "A Mormon President," scheduled to premiere in Salt Lake City next month.

Adam Christing, the film's producer and director, told the Deseret Morning News that skeptics who may like Romney's politics but can't get past his faith will find a broader understanding of what makes him tick, while supporters also may learn facts about Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that could present challenges.

In fact, the film is much more about Smith than it is about Romney, he said, but uses the presidential quest as a common link.

"Very few people realize that Romney is not the first Mormon to run for the White House," said Christing, a comedian popular in Christian circles who studied theology at Biola University in Los Angeles and has made only one other documentary film. Raised as a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ), Christing is a member of the Mormon History Association and cited his "total passion for the subject" as his biggest qualification to make the film.

He admitted to being surprised that there has been little skepticism regarding his credentials to produce it but said many have been wary of his approach, trying to gauge whether he was working on "an anti-Mormon film or a puff piece" that favors Romney and the LDS Church.

Christing said he's been mulling a balanced film portrayal of Smith for a long time, because "I don't think it has been told in a really balanced way that I'm aware of. ... In my experience, it's such a puff piece or like something like Fawn Brodie's book ('No Man Knows My History'), an all-out attack."

He became fascinated with Smith after learning of his presidential aspirations long before Romney came onto the national political stage, he said.

"To understand Romney, you have to understand Joseph Smith," Christing said. The man who told the world he saw God, talked with angels, translated gold plates and organized the LDS Church is so complex a character that chronicling his life alone has consumed years for many who have tried to paint a balanced picture. "He accomplished more in 14 years than people normally do in 50 years of career," Christing said.

Smith's daring has spurred the filmmaker to examine not only the church founder's short-lived political career, but also the events that have made him a center of controversy for more than 150 years.

Christing's crew recently retraced steps from the forced 1838 Mormon evacuation from Missouri to Nauvoo, Ill., where Smith announced his campaign for the White House and was murdered shortly thereafter.

Romney was a way to look both at Smith and the faith that he and Romney share in the arena of partisan politics, which has historically been wary of deep religious conviction.

Will the film help or hurt Romney's campaign?

Christing said he doesn't know, but he's impressed with Romney's sincerity. "Many have called him a flip-flopper. ... I think (he's) real. I think he would be a shoo-in as the Republican candidate if not for the fact that he is Mormon. In one way that's sad to me, and in another way it's so interesting. He could be Baptist or Lutheran or Jewish and it wouldn't be such a big deal."

After having interviewed people all across the country, Christing said he's convinced there is "still anti-Mormon feeling in America. It's very easy to find people who feel that way."

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