Finding a filmmaker who wanted to tell her story made Heidi Johnson pleased.
Seeing the product of the filmmaker's cinematic efforts made her weak.
"When I saw that footage, I was like 'I can't even stand right now,"' Johnson said. "I was stunned by how beautiful it was."
Johnson's experiences as a Mormon missionary in Vienna, Austria, are the basis for the film "Errand of Angels," which opened in theaters Aug. 22. The BYU graduate living with her husband and four children in Virginia said she felt inspired a few years ago to find a way to share her experiences from her mission.
"I always kind of wanted to do something with my mission journals," she said.
But Johnson's educational training is in history and geography, not film, and she had no idea how to go about capturing her message. She said she felt so impressed to pursue making a film, she just knew doors would open.
And then she was introduced to Christian Vuissa, an LDS producer/screenwriter/director who was from the very country where she served her mission.
"Even before I met him I knew a way would be provided," she said. Vuissa is from Austria and also served his mission there. His mission president just happened to be Johnson's father-in-law.
After their introduction, the two began a collaborative effort to transform one woman's experiences into something that could be appreciated by the masses.
What resulted is a 90-minute film highlighting experiences that resonate with not only former missionaries but members throughout The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and beyond, Johnson said.
"Initially, I just wanted to share experiences with people in my life," she said. But it has turned out to be "so much bigger than that."
Johnson showed an advance copy of the film to her ward's Relief Society, after which she learned just how far-reaching the film might turn out to be.
"I had one woman say that she investigated the church for a really long time and she felt like she could relate with the investigators (in the film)," Johnson said.
Johnson said one of her friends who is a returned missionary said, "This movie made me feel better about myself that I didn't love every part of my mission."
Just as her mission was a growing process, making a film has also proven to be a learning experience. One of the film's antagonists is a seeming bully named Sister Keller. Johnson said she originally based the stories of Sister Keller on specific experiences she had with her own companions, but with Vuissa's input decided that she did some annoying things, too.
"Maybe she's not a villain like you think she is," Johnson said Vuissa told her. "I hope other people kind of get that, too, that you get to resolve things."
Johnson not only worked with Vuissa on the story line of the film, but she also played a part in casting decisions as well as securing funding for the movie, which was shot on location in Austria.
Because of her family obligations, Johnson didn't travel to Austria for the filming but said she felt very much a part of the process and is more than thrilled with the result."I really felt that the Lord was helping with this process," she said. "When I saw the final product, it was so much more than I would have settled for."
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