Movie of miracles: T.C. Christensen's film aims to be more than just a handcart story

Published: Thursday, Sept. 2 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

On Tuesday Kofod was filming a scene where his character is gravely ill. A tight camera shot shows only a suffering Jens Nielson inside a handcart, covered by theatrical snow made of rice. Kofod had to return home to Copenhagen the next day; the rest of the film's winter scenes will be shot in November and December in Utah's west desert.

"As we try to look back at historical people, we tend to forget they're just like us. I try not only to play (the part) but to try and be it," he said. "I relate to these early pioneers. Many, many times in my life I have looked at a simple meal or a pair of boots and thought 'Gee, I wish I could go back and give them this one meal or this pair of boots.' I feel the closest connection to them somehow."

Karen Taylor flew in from her home in Las Cruces, N.M., to be an extra in the cast. She is one of many extras who traces her ancestry to a member of the Willie company. Christensen contacted her sometime ago, asking if she would send him the story of her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Painting. Elizabeth had been gathering buffalo chips when conditions in the Willie company were bleak. A man approached her and led her to a cave, where he had a supply of jerked meat. He filled her apron with the meat, and she began working her way back to camp. The man was gone when she turned to thank him.

"I always wondered why that story wasn't told when I would hear stories about the handcart companies," Taylor said. With that story now among the material for Christensen's script, Taylor asked if she could be an extra in the film.

Dianne Enslen and her husband, John, traveled from their home in Wetumpka, Ala., to be extras, along with six of their family members. They are part of the Mormon pioneers' adopted heritage, joining the church in Alabama more than 30 years ago. "The first talk I ever gave in church was on the pioneers."

Tanner is not only producing the film but managing approximately 400 extras.

"President (Gordon B.) Hinckley said something to the effect that we should read these stories to our children and grandchildren. That won't happen unless they're put on film," Tanner said, adding that character depth is one reason "This is not just a handcart film."

Excel Films publicist Lois Blackburn said Excel plans to release the film in theaters next summer with a DVD release to follow.

e-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

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