'Legacy': New Church film dramatizes joys, anguish of early saints

"Legacy," a new Church film, dramatizes the joys, trials and at times the anguish of the early Saints in their efforts to establish Zion.

This compelling motion picture - portraying more than 60 years of Church history, from 1830 to 1892 - will be the feature film shown in a new 500-seat, large-screen theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, formerly known as the Hotel Utah, in Salt Lake City. The film will be shown in five languages - English, Spanish, German, French and Japanese. It will not be available on videotape.The first public viewings of the 70-millimeter, 53-minute movie will be July 3, 6-7 during the public open house of the former hotel, which has undergone extensive remodeling. After the building's opening, the film will be shown continuously to visitors, except on Sundays. The building's interior was renovated into a Church office building and meetinghouse facilities for a downtown stake and wards. The building also includes public facilities such as reception and dining areas and a FamilySearch center for family history research.

"Legacy," sponsored by the First Presidency and directed and produced by LDS filmmaker and Academy Award winner Kieth Merrill, is centered on the experiences of members of a Mormon family as they accept the restored gospel, struggle through persecution and the loss of loved ones, and finally enter the Salt Lake Valley.

"The `Legacy' film is a moving and powerful portrayal of the history of our people," said President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency. "When we considered the possibility of such a film, we took the position that we wanted something that would be truthful to the remarkable story of our people. In our conversation with Kieth Merrill, who was chosen to produce it, we emphasized the need to encompass in one brief presentation the history of the Church, from its founding in New York to its establishment in the valleys of the mountains.

"I am satisfied," continued President Hinckley, "that everyone who sees it will be deeply affected by the true-to-life portrayal which is presented.

"The high quality of the film is enhanced by the beautiful new theater in which it will be shown. I believe that never before have we had a more faithful portrayal or one that carries with it more emotional impact."

Bishop H. David Burton, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said that non-LDS who see the film will hopefully "understand that Latter-day Saints didn't spontaneously arrive upon the scene, but that they have deep spiritual roots, that there was indeed a restoration of the gospel."

Bishop Burton, who was secretary to the Presiding Bishopric at the time "Legacy" was produced, said, "A [ChurchT member, I hope, would walk away with a feeling of appreciation for what our forefathers went through for our heritage and for us to enjoy the rich blessings of the gospel."

The struggles and triumphs of the Church's forefathers are portrayed through historically based experiences, although the main characters in the film are fictitious. Bishop Burton described the characters as composites of authentic pioneer men and women.

The main character in the film is Eliza Williams, oldest daughter in the Williams family. The majority of the film depicts her as a young woman, although as an elderly person she offers occasional narration, telling her story to her young grandson while they sit in her home in Salt Lake City in 1892.

The first scene of the film is the 1892 capstone ceremony for the Salt Lake Temple. The scene changes as Eliza's grandson runs into her home exclaiming that he has seen the statue of the Angel Moroni. He and his grandmother then discuss his upcoming baptism. "Did you get baptized?" he asks Eliza.

"Many years ago," she responds. "I was among the first [members to be baptized after the RestorationT. I was only 13 years old when I first read the Book of Mormon."

At this point, the film fades to scenes on the Williams farm in upstate New York in 1830. A 13-year-old Eliza is reading a copy of the Book of Mormon that belongs to her father's friend. At one point, while she is reading in the family home, the Prophet Joseph Smith comes to visit. As he enters the room, Eliza is startled and quickly stands up, spilling the contents of a bowl that had been sitting on her lap. The prophet kneels down, helps her refill the bowl and then picks up the Book of Mormon. He tells Eliza to keep the book, that he will give her father's friend another copy.

Thus begins the "Legacy" of faith Eliza strives to pass down to her family. As the movie continues, the Williams family settles in Missouri - all the family that is, except for Eliza's older brother, who doesn't believe in Joseph Smith and becomes estranged from the family until in 1836, when the young man asks his father, living in Far West, for forgiveness.

While in Missouri, persecution from mobs escalates and Eliza witnesses the massacre at Haun's Mill in 1838, when an armed mob of more than 200 men killed 17 Mormons. She escapes by crossing a partially frozen stream and hiding.

The Saints are then forced to leave Missouri and the prophet is imprisoned at Liberty Jail. The Church settles in Commerce, Ill., which was later renamed Nauvoo; the prophet is released from jail; and the saints proceed to build the city - and a new temple.

Romance is interwoven into the story as Eliza's father returns from a mission in England during the Nauvoo period and brings with him a new convert, David Walker. He falls in love with Eliza, who is engaged to another man. Eliza's heart is torn between the two men, but she finally chooses David.

The story continues as the Saints struggle to build the temple - and then experience anguish at the martyrdom of the prophet in 1844. One of the most poignant moments of "Legacy" occurs at this point. Eliza's husband, a stonecutter for the temple, is sitting alone and forlorn at the temple construction site after news of the prophet's death reached Nauvoo. His wife approaches him tenderly and sits by him on a stone block.

"I was not prepared for how it would end," he emotionally tells her.

"It hasn't ended," she tells him. "It only ends if we lose faith. . . . You must finish the temple."

The Saints do finish their temple before being driven from Nauvoo in 1846. Then begins the exodus west, during which Eliza is left to lead her family when David joins the Mormon Battalion, a group of more than 500 Mormon men who volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1846 to help in a war against Mexico. The men volunteered at the U.S. government's request, traveled to California to join the war efforts, but, ultimately, they never had to fight.

David and other members of the battalion rejoined their families on a hot, dusty day on the Mormon trail.

"Legacy" includes panoramic scenes of a wagon train weaving its way across mountains and plains during the Mormon migration. The first pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. Eliza, David and their family entered the valley later that summer.

The end of the movie portrays the elderly Eliza giving her Book of Mormon - the one she received from the prophet - to her grandson, and saying, "Make sure that this legacy of faith may never die."

The movie took about two years to produce and was filmed on location in Utah, New York, Missouri, Illinois, Wyoming, and in England. A cast of about 30 was used, with nearly 3,000 extras, and a technical and construction crew of about 120.

In seeking state-of-the-art technology for "Legacy," Brother Merrill produced the film on 70-millimeter film. A negative of this film is about double the size of the negative of regular 35-millimeter film and produces a brighter, clearer image that fills a large screen. In addition, the film speed was accelerated by 25 percent - bringing it to 30 frames per second, rather than the normal 24 frames per second. This also improves the clarity and brightness of the film.

Despite the technical complexities of the film, Brother Merrill said that the greatest challenge to producing "Legacy" was compressing 60 years of history into 53 minutes. But he described the experience as "the highlight of my life."

Bishop Burton said he knew the film had captured its intended spirit when after an early screening he saw film crew members "with tears running down their faces. It made me feel like we had reached our objective of conveying the Spirit."

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