A new film on the life of Joseph Smith and his prophetic role in the Restoration of the gospel is a major event in the Church's commemoration of the 200th anniversary of his birth.
Produced under direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the film, "Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration," will begin showing in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 17. The 68-minute film offers powerful glimpses into the life of Joseph Smith from his youth in Vermont to his martyrdom in Carthage, Ill., at age 38. The film was shot over a period of a year on location in Palmyra, N.Y.; Nauvoo, Ill.; New Salem Village near St. Louis, Mo.; Upper Canada Village in Ottawa, and at the Church's Motion Picture Studio in Provo, Utah. In addition, a breathtaking aerial scene was shot of a riverboat steaming up the Mississippi River to open the new movie.
The anticipated impact of "Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration," said Elder Keith K. Hilbig of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Audiovisual Department, "will be one of respect and awe for the Prophet's contributions (to the Restoration of the gospel). The life which he led and the difficulties which he encountered and overcame will vividly demonstrate his commitment to the Restoration and his absolute certainty of the things which he saw.
"I believe that whoever views the film, whether member or not, will come away with increased appreciation of the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith."
And the timing of the film's release, Elder Hilbig added, is enhanced by the fact the Church is commemorating the birth of the Prophet Joseph on Dec. 23, 1805. In fact, unlike the release of the two previous Legacy Theater films, "Legacy" (1993) and "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd" (2000), this latest film will be released at the end of December to most visitors centers and historic sites throughout the Church. And early next year, the film will be released in additional languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German and Japanese.
"This is the largest undertaking by the Church with respect to the creation of a feature film," Elder Hilbig noted. "It will be impressive."
He also emphasized that "Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration" is not a history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a biographical presentation of the life of the Prophet, including his personal interactions with not only his family, but also with those early members who gained a testimony of the gospel and followed "Brother Joseph" in the days leading up to the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in 1830 to the sorrowful days of the summer of 1844. Watching "Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration," with its total cast of more than 1,100 including some 40-50 principal characters makes one feel as if one is personally viewing scenes from Vermont, New York, Nauvoo and Carthage. The film's authenticity of script, sets and clothing takes one back, as numerous Church historians and especially the First Presidency oversaw the creation of the script.
Other than some composites taken from the pages of Church history, the principal characters are authentic, including, along with the Prophet, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, Alvin and Hyrum Smith, Emma Smith, Brigham Young, Lyman Wight, Oliver Cowdery and well-known African-American convert Jane Manning, who walked more than 900 miles to Nauvoo.
Authenticity was key to the making of this film, said Lyle Shamo, managing director of the Church's Audiovisual Department. "One of the challenges to authenticity is the scope of the story itself," he added. "It's hard to capture in 68 minutes the essence of the magnificence of Joseph Smith."
Ron Munns, the film's producer, added: "I've always had the feeling the Spirit seems to work best in the arena of truth. The closer you get to truth and authenticity, the easier it is for the Spirit to witness to the veracity of anything."
With that in mind, actor and Church member Nathan Mitchell of the Hyde Park 9th Ward, Hyde Park Utah Stake, approached his role as the Prophet Joseph Smith. Speaking with the Church News, Brother Mitchell, 30, said he read and studied the life of the Prophet before filming began. But nothing prepared him as much, he said, as the spiritual confirmation he received while on set that he was "in the right place and doing the right thing."
Beginning with his own love for Joseph Smith, he had small realizations in various scenes especially that of Liberty Jail of what Joseph Smith might have personally experienced. Emphasizing that what he felt and experienced were small in comparison to the actual life of the Prophet, Brother Mitchell gave as example the filming of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. "Just sitting up there on the stand and looking down on Emma and Lucy in the congregation with Hyrum at my side and Joseph Senior behind me, it was a different perspective I had never considered before."
Merrill Jenson and Arlen Card, composers of the score, expressed similar sentiments. Brother Jenson said he wrote some 20 different themes for Joseph before settling on "The Heart of the Prophet," which runs through most of the film. The melody came to him one night, and he went to the piano, and wrote it down and developed it over a day or two. "It's a thoughtful theme, depicting soul, depicting commitment, love, faith, that of overcoming and growing."
Being sensitive to the Spirit permeated the filming, Brother Munns related. One day while lunching with extras, he spoke with an extra who was not a member of the Church. Although the principal actors were temple worthy Church members, some of the extras because of sheer numbers were not LDS but were cleared to join the cast. This man told Brother Munns, "Do you know what you're doing here? I don't know what's going on, but something special is going on here. I can feel it."
The same feelings will be felt by many who view "Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration."
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