New film: Two testaments of the Savior

From the pages of two ancient testaments of Jesus Christ comes a new film from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve portraying the mission of the Messiah to "one fold and one shepherd."

Opening to the public March 24 in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the new 60-minute production, "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd," sets a stage in two hemispheres — the world of the New Testament and the world of the Book of Mormon.

Through the eyes of a fictional Nephite family, these two worlds merge in one poignant witness of the Savior. Filmed on site on the Hawaiian island of Kauai; and also near Palm Springs, Calif.; and at the BYU Motion Picture Studio and Ventura Studios in Provo, Utah, "The Testaments," as it is often referred to, is beyond the scale of any audiovisual product the Church has ever produced.

In "New World" scenes, ancient temples seem to rise from the trees as composite characters of Nephites and Lamanites mingle, live and love while "believers" wait for the coming of their Messiah as foretold by the prophets. In the "Old World," one can almost walk the shore of Galilee or the streets of Jerusalem with the mortal Christ.

But whatever the road or path or character in the film, the message of "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd" is the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ for all mankind — past and present.

"The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve had this film made because we wanted to confirm our belief in the Savior, in His atoning sacrifice, and in the Resurrection," said President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, in a statement to the Church News. "We also wanted to affirm that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are testaments of the Savior as one fold and one shepherd.

"There are literally hundreds of members of the Church who participated in making this film," President Faust continued. "There are no credits in the film because all who participated in any way felt privileged to do so. However, we appreciate the efforts of the Audiovisual Department of the Church, Brother Kieth Merrill [who directed the production], the Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square and all of the creative and technical people who contributed generously of their talents."

"The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd," which has been in preparation, production and editing for some three years, will be shown Mondays through Saturdays continuously throughout each day in the 500-seat Legacy Theater. Tickets are required, but there is no charge. Until now, the Church film "Legacy," also directed by Brother Merrill, LDS filmmaker and academy award winner, has been shown there. "Legacy" will also be available later.

While "Legacy" offered an important message about the sacrifices and heritage of early Church members, the message of "The Testaments" bears testimony of the living Christ, said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy and executive director of the Audiovisual Department during a Church News interview. "All those who have a chance to see this new film will understand that Jesus Christ is the central person to all our theology, to all we believe."

"The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd" is, without question, a witness of Christ. The film begins quietly with the birth of Christ in Bethlehem as a magnificent star seems to burst in the sky. It is here in the production that the easy blending of the two hemispheres occurs. "Somewhere in the Americas," a boy looks up to see the same star and runs to his village, where his spiritual leader, Amaron, declares it is the long-awaited sign of the coming of the Messiah to the land of their forefathers. That boy is then shown as a grown man named Helam in Zarahemla. He has two children, his young daughter, Mara, and his young adult son, Jacob, a gifted sculptor in wood and stone. Jacob struggles with believing in a Messiah he has not seen and is being enticed away from the "faith of his fathers" by Kohor, an evil but cunning man who seeks to overthrow the government and set himself up as king.

"The Testaments" continues as the characters, including Laneah, with whom Jacob is falling in love, learn of the Messiah and "imagine" His life in the Old World. These moments provide vivid flashes to Jerusalem and the life, ministry and Atonement of Jesus Christ. These scenes include His Roman trial and crucifixion. Thus, as Christ dies upon the cross, the destruction in the New World begins, with thunderings, lightning, fires and earthquakes. Then, three days of darkness. But Helam's family, as well as Laneah's, survives. In Jerusalem, a tearful Mary Magdalene greets her resurrected Lord at the empty tomb. In the land Bountiful in the New World, the appearance of Jesus Christ is shown through the eyes of Helam and his loved ones. It is here in the film that the viewer may reflect with poignancy on his or her own future meeting with the Savior.

In speaking of the spiritual power of "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd," Elder Andersen emphasized the personal sacrifices of the members in the making of this film. For example, he spoke of the more than 300 members of the Church on Kauai who donated their time as extras in the scene of the Savior's descent into Bountiful. "As you see the Savior descend and you look into their faces, when you see the emotion, it's not because they are great actors or actresses; they were donating and consecrating their efforts, and the Lord blessed them with a great spiritual experience."

Elder Andersen also related the tireless efforts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square — the latter of which had only been performing together for three months — and their travels to a sound stage in Provo many nights in a row, of recordings and re-recordings.

Originally, another orchestra was suggested to record the music, but that plan was changed with no later regrets. "We had a talented composer comment: 'You would never have got the richness of this sound from any other orchestra because the Orchestra at Temple Square was playing with their hearts.' They were giving everything they had, and the Lord increased their capacities," Elder Andersen recalled.

Film director Brother Merrill describes many similar experiences in the film's production sequences. For example, producers were down to only two days left to film the destruction sequences from the Book of Mormon. "There was a spirit of faith. As disciples of Christ and members of the Church, we'll take that leap of faith because we care so much. Everybody went more than the extra mile. We shot only exactly the shots we needed and used every foot of film."

Their efforts were more than sufficient, as viewers may attest.

Brother Merrill also related using well-known Christian paintings of the Savior to recreate poignant scenes in the film, such as the raising of Lazarus and the healing of the blind man. Using story boards based on those paintings and a particular lighting technique, set designers were able to bring those moments to life.

The First Presidency, Brother Merrill explained, "asked us to portray Christ in a way that the Christian world would know that the Christ who is familiar to them is the Christ whom we worship."

LDS composer Merrill Jenson, who took about six months writing and rewriting the music for the score, also spoke with emotion of the Lord expanding his talents for the film. His greatest challenge, he reflected during a Church News interview, came in composing the theme for the Savior's appearances.

For days, he worked, writing some 10 versions but feeling none was right. Finally, feeling some despair, he turned to soul-searching and prayer — and walked to the family grand piano for a break. "I sat down and wrote a melody," he recalled. "It didn't have any relationship to the film. I wrote my feelings of the Savior separate from all that."

The next morning, Brother Jenson, who also composed the music for "Legacy," finished his melody, adding a hallelujah chorus he felt in his heart. Then, in deep reflection, he played a rough video recording of the movie's scene of Christ's appearance in the land of Bountiful while he played the score he had just finished.

"I played through the theme just as the people walked toward the Savior, and He let them reach out and touch Him. That's where the hallelujah starts. The timing was just perfect. I felt that piece had been written before."

The one thing most relied on by those involved in this work, they related without equivocation, was the guidance of the Spirit. Describing his portrayal of Helam's personal experience with the Risen Lord, LDS actor Rick Macy said: "At that moment, you just bear your testimony and let the Spirit guide you. There's no acting or technique there."

Nine-year-old Arianna Marsden, "Mara," probably described the feelings of the others best when she related what she hopes her own children may someday learn from the film: "He lives. He's the Son of God."

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