For the first time in its history, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will release a feature-length documentary commercially on Oct. 10.
The new feature-length film, “Meet the Mormons,” highlights the lives of six Latter-day Saints who live across the globe — in areas spanning from the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, to the rain forests of Costa Rica, to the Salt Lake Valley.
Though the film was financed by the church, its net proceeds will be donated to charity.
“The intent of the film is to help people understand what our members are really like,” said producer Jeff Roberts.
He said the film conveys the Mormon faith, in terms of the impact it has on the lives of its members. ”It does so in a way that is entertaining, uplifting and engaging. It is not preaching in any way. We are not trying to convert anyone, we are just trying to inform.”
Featured in the film are Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, who was known as “The Candy Bomber” during the 1940s Berlin Airlift; Ken Niumatalolo, head football coach of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; Bishnu Adhikari, a humanitarian and engineer in Nepal; Carolina Muñoz Marin, an amateur kickboxer in Costa Rica; Jermaine Sullivan, an LDS bishop in Atlanta, Georgia; and Dawn Armstrong, a mother living in the Salt Lake Valley.
“How did we find them? Any way we could,” said the film’s writer and director, Blair Treu.
He said that individuals featured in the film had to have an important quality: “The gospel has to be evident in the way they live their lives.”
In the beginning, “we were concerned with how we would find these families,” Treu said. “In the end it was more about who we were going to cut because we had so many good options.”
Charged with producing the film for the Legacy Theater in Salt Lake City and for visitors’ centers across the globe, Treu pitched the project to the LDS Church’s First Presidency in late 2010. After the project was finished, church leaders decided to expand the film's release due to the positive response from both LDS and non-LDS sample audiences.
Treu said the objective was to give the film broader reach, making it available to members and their friends on the big screen — in their own cities and towns — and then on cable TV, Internet streaming and in the Legacy Theater and visitors' centers.
Church leaders have a lot of confidence in their membership, he said. “They never once, not once, ever told us who or where or what to shoot,” he said. “We were tasked with one thing: ‘Try to capture, as best you can, who we really are.’ That is it.”
Gail Halvorsen, who will turn 94 on the day the film opens, said participating in the project was the experience of a lifetime.
“I come from very humble beginnings,” he said. “It is thrill beyond expression. I feel like a sparrow in a flock of eagles.”
For his part in the documentary, Halvorsen — who lives in Arizona — traveled to Berlin.
Of the documentary, he said: “This is the first time something like this has been done, yet it is so representative of the church — of the worldwide applications of the Savior’s mission for the whole earth.”
Jermaine Sullivan, who was a bishop at the time of filming and now serves as president of the Atlanta Georgia Stake, said he was nervous to begin filming.
“I have never had this type of attention focused on me like this,” he said. “I hope that people learn a bit more about who we are, what we believe, what we do to serve and minister and help others.”
He said the crew was with his family all the time for a week. “You couldn’t do anything but show your life the way it was.”
He hopes his life will be representative of the life of all Mormons; that after seeing the film, when viewers hear the word Mormon, “they will imagine a family like mine.”
He wants to communicate that Mormons are just trying — imperfectly — to be like Jesus Christ. “This is kind of how they conduct themselves. This is how they serve others. This is what their homes look like. This is how they try to teach their children. This is how they strive to parent. No one is perfect. We are just like every other community member trying to do good and be good parents.”
Dawn Armstrong, a young single mother who had hit rock bottom when she met the Mormon missionaries herself, is featured in the film helping her son — now older — prepare for full-time missionary service.
“In a world that seems so quick to tear down, I hope that people will choose to lift up, and most importantly, to look up,” she said. “Let love and understanding be a driving force in your life. I think that is the sincere message of the movie.”
"For more information about "Meet the Mormons" go to www.meetthemormons.com.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company