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Film in Nauvoo opens to guests

Joseph Smith film attracts civic leaders; extras see snips of selves here and there

NAUVOO, Ill. — A new film that premiered in December in Salt Lake City on the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith is being shown at Church visitors centers in various locales around the country, not the least of which is Nauvoo, the city he himself founded in 1839.

"Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration" has been shown to capacity audiences in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building since Dec. 17. Meanwhile, this month, the Illinois Nauvoo Mission has hosted three special showings of the movie for invited guests.

On Jan. 6, members of the local news media were invited to a luncheon in connection with a film screening. Several guests were taken on a horse-drawn wagon tour of historic Nauvoo following the film. A variety of reports about the film were aired on area radio stations, and articles appeared in the New Nauvoo Independent, the Burlington (Iowa) Hawkeye, the Quincy Herald- Whig, the Hancock County Journal Pilot, the Fort Madison (Iowa) Daily Democrat, and the Keokuk (Iowa) Daily Gate City.

A subsequent showing Jan 13 was for cast extras, film production workers and their families, as the movie was partially filmed on location in Nauvoo and New Salem. Some 200 guests attended the showing, many of whom were interested in renewing acquaintances with the people they had met during the filming. They also saw their personal contributions to and appearances in the film.

The third invitation-only screening, held Jan. 18, for local mayors, other public officials and clergy, drew approximately 30 guests. Among them was Mayor John Spring of neighboring Quincy, a city which holds a place in Church history as the locale where the early Church members were given refuge after they were driven from Missouri prior to establishing Nauvoo.

Other guests at the Jan. 18 showing included Charlie Blair of Hancock County Economic Development; Ada Bair, director of Memorial Hospital in Carthage; Rustin Lippencott, Nauvoo Tourism director; Dorothy Feldhauer, Nauvoo Methodist minister; Don Faulkner, Nauvoo chief of police; and Joyce Shireman, director of Community of Christ Historic Sites, which owns and operates some of the properties in Nauvoo that once belonged to Joseph Smith and his family.

Among attenders at the showing for production workers and cast members was Steve Lupcho, Alton, Ill., who has been active in a number of historical re-enactment groups and is an expert on Illinois history. A follower of the Sundancers, the Lakota spiritual path, he said, "Those people who thought that Joseph couldn't receive communication from God didn't know much. Native American people have always prayed and also receive spiritual manifestations." Asked if he saw himself in the movie, he said, "I think I saw my stirrup, but if we got to ride and shoot, it was all worth it!"

Sheila McCoy, who worked with sets and props in the New Salem filming, said, "I'm so glad they showed it in Nauvoo; I don't know if we'd have ever made it to Salt Lake City to see it."

At least one baptism has resulted from involvement in the production. Two casting workers saw James Reynolds at a local WalMart store and approached him to ask if he would be interested in being in the movie. As a result of his participation, he began researching and studying the Church in October 2004. Eventually he met with the missionaries and was baptized last August.

Molly Fosdick, who provided goats for location filming, attended with her mother, Anna Vasconcelles, who is retired from the Illinois State Library, where she worked in the archives. "I didn't know much about your church's background," she said. "I never knew your people had to go through such terrible trials in defense of their religion. They had to have so much faith to suffer like they did."

Leola Whitehead was in the movie with her children: Andrew, 7, Rebecca, 17, and Eliza, 2. Eliza is in one of the scenes showing the saints leaving Missouri. She is seen under a halo of blonde curls, looking back at her doll sunk into the mud.

"I'm a convert, baptized in 1994," Sister Whitehead said. "I thought this movie was more realistic than some Church movies I've seen. They showed the human side of Joseph. He seemed more like a real boy and a real person. I also liked how they portrayed the relationship between Joseph and Emma. It showed her as active and important to him and his work."

As a memento, the family received a picture of Nathan Miller, who played Joseph, holding Eliza; he autographed it for her.

"We had a wonderful time," she said. "We'd do it again in a minute." — R. Scott Lloyd; contributing: Sister Sally D. Larson, public affairs for Historic Nauvoo

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