‘Meet the Mormons’ franchise culminates with latest vignettes

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd

The newest video in the “Meet the Mormons” series depicts a show pilot who for many years has constructed his own airplanes and done flight acrobatics at air shows.

“The Craftsman” will premiere Saturday at Church visitors’ centers and historic sites, the latest in a string of stand-alone vignettes that began with break-outs from the original, feature-length movie that premiered in 2014. It will culminate later this year with the premier of one more vignette, signaling the end of the “Meet the Mormons” franchise.

“The Craftsman” was shown in a sneak preview for invited guests, Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Legacy Theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, together with “The Horseman,” one of three that premiered last year.

“I think it’s the bookend to what started in 2014,” said John Dye, a marketer with Bonneville Communications, of the latest releases. “With these, we are sun setting the ‘Meet the Mormons’ franchise.”

The original movie on DVD can still be purchased at Church distribution centers, he said. “But these individual stories from that original film plus the four that have recently come out are just available at historic sites and visitors’ centers.”

Watching “The Craftsman,” viewers are introduced to Danny and Alynn Sorensen and their five children. Viewers learn immediately of his passion for aviation stemming from his childhood and youth, when for $100, he sold a car his brother gave him so he could take flying lessons.

Dizzying aeronautical footage in the 20-minute film shows Danny’s prowess as a show pilot, performing stunts at airshows in self-constructed craft, a career he resumed in earnest after retiring from the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

“The things I learned along the way about building aircraft and building myself I couldn’t have learned any other way,” he says in voice-over narration.

Later in the film, viewers learn of his and Alynn’s love for the gospel, nurtured from the beginning of their courtship and marriage.

“We went on a date in the airplane,” she says in the film.

“And I was absolutely smitten by her the first time I met her,” he adds, drawing an expression of good-natured skepticism from his wife.

“We wanted to have a family of more than one child — more than two — and raise our kids in the gospel of Jesus Christ, teach them values, the things that are important, self-reliance, and being valuable to society and to the family.”

The Sorensens have lived in the same modest home in Bountiful, Utah, for over 40 years, according to the narration, where he served as a bishop.

His release from that calling came when the family faced a life-changing challenge. Their daughter Jennifer, at age 4, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was removed in a nine-hour surgery. She survived, endured the misery of radiation and chemotherapy, and today, as a young woman, is featured in the film with her parents.

With characteristic wit, she says in the film, “I’m the only one in the family that has a door in her skull.”

“The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to take care of one another, and I think that the reason I was called to be the bishop was so that we would have the support of the ward members to help us get through that,” Danny says in the film.

The other vignette shown at the sneak preview, “The Horseman,” was among those introduced last year. It tells the story of Jeff and Emily Wadman from Morgan, Utah, where he trains horses for a living.

Horses are free spirits, but “they are still a prey animal,” he says in the voiceover narration. “They operate off of fear to protect themselves until somebody takes the horse and shows them another way. I am a horse trainer, and my job is to help a horse fulfill its highest abilities.”

In the film, the Wadmans relate the endeavor of horse training to the way God teaches, shapes and molds His children to fulfill their highest potential.

In an interview in the lobby after the preview, director and writer Blair Treu traced the development of the “Meet the Mormons” franchise.

The concept started in 2010 with the premiere of the original, feature-length movie occurring in October 2014 and initially planned for showing strictly at the Church’s Legacy Theater.

“We had no idea it would go as far as it did until we tested it on focus groups and the scores came back so unbelievably high,” Treu said.

An outside marketing firm suggested it be released in theaters. For two weeks in a row, it was in the top 10 films in the nation for per-theater average. Ultimately it placed among the top 35 documentaries of all time.

“When we saw the success of that first film, we realized we had extra footage from those original stories,” the director said. “Our first step was to redo those six stories as stand-alone versions but add footage that had not been seen before.”

These were exhibited at visitors’ centers and historic sites. Later, three additional stand-alone films were made for showing in the centers. With the addition of “The Craftsman” and the one to be introduced later this year, “The Doctors,” set in St. Petersburg, Russia, the shorter films now number 11 in all.

“Our hope is that the franchise continues to draw people to Temple Square and visitors’ centers,” Treu said. “But the primary goal is that it continues to dispel common misconceptions that people have about us. As people get to know us a bit better, they get to feel, ‘Hey these people aren’t so bad. They’re not so scary. They’re just like me. They have shortcomings just like me and they’re searching for happiness just like me.’

“We hope it is relatable across all backgrounds. It doesn’t matter what your religiosity is or what particular faith you are, we hope that you will find some common themes in these stories that really speak to you on a personal level, whether you be Catholic or whether you be Mormon or whether you be of no particular persuasion at all.”

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