SALT LAKE CITY — Wonderfully photographed and set to upbeat, compelling music, the story of "The 5,000 Days Project: Two Brothers" grabs the heart and takes the viewer on a unique journey through the growing up days of Luke and Sam Nelson — two otherwise ordinary Mormon boys who struggle to love one another.
It makes for a very enjoyable story and Stevenson involves his audience into the boys' lives without having to push.
He starts with interviews of Luke at age 8 and Sam at age 10 and follows the two through junior high, adolescence, high school and into their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Luke's story includes his quest to win a scholarship to Brigham Young University and a place on its football team. (Yes, sports fans, there's some great game footage).
Sam's story details his bid for a class office helped by his previously annoying little brother's dance in a bee costume and it includes his battle with depression.
He goes on his mission to Santiago, Chile, and sends back video diary entries that are touching and hilarious as he learns to open his heart and love other people.
All throughout, there's a storyline of needing to connect as Luke feels his older brother just doesn't care for him much. His tears up as a youngster as he despairs at ever having a good relationship with Sam tug at the heartstrings.
Without the conflict or trauma that usually accompanies such a story, this film still manages to be interesting every moment.
The story is told simply and without contrivance. The brothers are photogenic, articulate and appealing and yet are the kind of boys who are growing up in every Mormon household without a lot of fanfare.
Stevenson chose Luke and Sam after sifting through 800 names of students in the elementary schools in the Seattle area.
The fact that they turned out to be his nephews after he married their aunt was serendipitous as is the coincidence that their story included a young man who walked onto BYU's team try-outs and made the team.
Stevenson wanted to do a better version of a British series of stories known as the 7-Up series where producers checked in with people at 7 years of age and every seven years thereafter. He plans to eventually tell the stories of 16-17 young people from all kinds of circumstances. This is just his first.
"I wanted a closer look, every year, more like a flower opening up approach," Stevenson said. "I also wanted to use more revealing questions."
Along the way, Stevenson gave his stars the right to refuse to let him use the interviews even though that made it hard to attract investors. He wanted Luke and Sam to feel free to be "super honest" without fear of what might happen later when they matured and thought back to what they might have said.
It turned out he got honest answers from two well-adjusted brothers who grew to love and trust each other, boys who would grow into powerful missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Sam in Chile and Luke in Cambodia. (He obtained special permission to have each boy keep a video diary on his mission.)
Stevenson is not LDS but focused on LDS boys for the film partly because he wanted to tell a story about young men with values.
"It's not an LDS movie. It's a movie about two kids who are LDS," Stevenson said. "It's very typical (of the LDS situation)."
For that reason, the film lends itself to becoming a teaching tool, he said, and he hopes it will be used to bridge cultural and religious gaps around the world through firesides and LDS Church gatherings.
The DVD will be released through Deseret Book and can be obtained at DeseretBook.com.
To watch it:
What: "The 5,000 Days Project: Two Brothers"
When: Oct. 2, 4 p.m., as well as Thanksgiving Day and during the Christmas season
Where: BYUtv, Channel 11
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 30 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.