Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormonism: Coming soon to a theater near you

Yesterday’s landmark talk by Elder David A. Bednar explored numerous examples of how Mormons can share their faith online; you can read the “top takeaway” points here at LDS Living.

Most of what he said is not surprising — that LDS Church members should be open and authentic about discussing their faith on social media and blogs, and that they should be respectful of other people’s views (and their intellectual property, as I was glad he noted).

Here’s hoping that more Mormons pay attention to his counsel about not belittling or condemning people online . . . but I’m not going to hold my breath.

One thing that was surprising is the announcement that the LDS Church has created a full-length documentary called Meet the Mormons — not to be confused with a British film of the same name — to be released in commercial movie theaters on October 10. As LDS Living reports,

The film was originally meant to be shown only in the Legacy Theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, but now will have worldwide distribution through various available digital channels. It will be released in select theaters in the United States soon after October general conference, but will later be shown in visitor’s centers, on television, and through internet movie and social media channels.

As the trailer above shows, the production values look strong for the movie. It appears to take the Church’s popular “I’m a Mormon” campaign to a logical extreme, using half a dozen ordinary/extraordinary Latter-day Saints around the world as the calling card for our religion.

I’m glad to see this. At least one study has shown that people’s generally unfavorable views of Latter-day Saints tend to soften or even enjoy a reversal when they know Mormons personally. A movie or a social media contact is not the same as a personal relationship, but it makes an impression.

Hopefully it will be a positive one.





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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • Is this sort of self-congratulatory production the most effective use of our tithing dollars? It seems to me that the only people who will want to see this movie are Mormons.

  • Agreed, but I can’t see one non member I know paying $10 to see a careful crafted missionary message from the Mormons.

  • But how else can the LDS Church spread the gospel and NOT charge people for it? It’s a contradiction in terms.

  • I noticed that 5 out of the 6 individuals who speak in this trailer are men, although they do a good job of showing men from different ethnic/racial backgrounds. Hopefully, the movie itself has a better gender balance of who they feature and who speaks in the movie. However, it does lead me to wonder if the creators of the movie have struggled with a similar issue that the creators of the “I am a Mormon” campaign seemed to struggle with. If you focus on individuals who have accomplished noteworthy things in the world (by what I guess you might call “wordily standards”), you are often focusing on women who have a careers outside the home and not on women who are following the role most emphasized by the LDS church.

  • Is this sort of criticism of the most effective use of our tithing funds emanating from a practicing Latter-day Saint who routinely sustains the living prophets and apostles and the things that they teach us, or from someone who often finds himself at odds with the Lord’s anointed? (Not belittling nor condemning, but just wanting to make sure we understand the baseline position of the person making the comment…)

  • Then to the extent any of those people are interested, they can see it at a visitors center or any number of free online outlets which will be offered. The church really doesn’t care so much that the movie ends up in theaters as it does that it may reach the widest possible audience through all manner of avenues.

    Besides, you’d be surprised how many people attend off-the-wall documentaries, and they may prefer to do so from the anonymity of a movie theater than leaving an electronic trail via an online source.

  • You missed the female kickboxer.

    As for the overall composition of featured individuals, the producer had free reign to do whatever interested him most.

    From the Deseret News article about the film:

    Charged with producing the film for the Legacy Theater in Salt Lake City and for visitors’ centers across the globe, Treu pitched the project to the LDS Church’s First Presidency in late 2010. After the project was finished, church leaders decided to expand the film’s release due to the positive response from both LDS and non-LDS sample audiences.

    Treu said the objective was to give the film broader reach, making it available to members and their friends on the big screen — in their own cities and towns — and then on cable TV, Internet streaming and in the Legacy Theater and visitors’ centers.

    Church leaders have a lot of confidence in their membership, he said. “They never once, not once, ever told us who or where or what to shoot,” he said. “We were tasked with one thing: ‘Try to capture, as best you can, who we really are.’ That is it.”

  • I saw the movie in the first public showing today and it is really well done. The stories they focus on are phenomenal and extremely diverse both in terms of ethnicity and gender. Two of the six focus on women, but the wives of the other men are all also featured prominently. It is a really well done film that can help introduce others to members of the church.

    Also, any money made from.the theatrical showing above cost will be donated to the red cross, so that is another hook to get people to see it.

  • “Hopefully it will be a positive one.”

    Yeah. It’s really no good when people publicly say negative things about the church. Oops–sorry, Jana.

  • Yes — I think TomW is right that the Church is concerned with having the broadest reach possible for the film. There will be many ways for people to see it for free after its theatrical release.

    One thing, TomW — Beatrice didn’t miss the female kickboxer. That woman didn’t speak in the video.

  • Any money collected by the LDS church from people going seeing this in theaters or anywhere else, is donated the Red Cross. It is also going to be made available at convention centers, online, TV, etc where people can watch it for free.

  • Wouldn’t it have been something if the 5 out of the 6 individuals who spoke in this trailer were women? But then, that would have been asking for a miracle.

  • I think you were belittling. Saying you sent aren’t belittling doesn’t negate your pretentious, self righteous , belittling attitude. Yeah… I’m belittling you.

  • They could use the billions of dollars they are sitting on to spread the gospel without charging people.. Oh wait then we wouldn’t have city creek mall. it’s a pickle I agree.

  • Why don’t they just donate some of the billions of dollars they already have to the red cross and release the film online free to all?

  • She said 5 of 6. She picked up the ONE female just fine. And portraying wife’s as just a wife reinforces the the issue I’m sensing that Beatrice is getting at.

  • I think Mormons in general; are really nice people – at least those that follow the teachings of Jesus. Would I ever watch a flick produced by them? Not unless I was fooled into it.

  • Somehow publicly available financial reports of Church don’t seem like such a horrible idea after all. 🙂

  • Those who criticize the very idea of this movie would like to see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints liquidate all its assets and just go out of business. Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

    By the way, did the guys who produced “The Book of Mormon” musical donate all profits to charity? Or just get personally wealthy from it?

    The University of Pennsylvania study a year ago concluded that Mormons donate far more of their time and resources to charitable works, both in and out of their church, than any other American group. Item one is that every leader and teacher in local and regional LDS organizations is an unpaid volunteer. If you can get all the pastors in your church to give up their pay, housing, etc., support themselves with other jobs, and PAY into their church, and divert the savings into charities, then you would just be starting to compete with Mormons in charitable donations.

  • Will they deal with issues such as not practicing and supporting polygamy will damn a person, if blacks are allowed into the priesthood it will be the end of the Mormon religion, that God has many wives, Jesus has wives, Quakers live on the moon (they live to be about a thousand years old), that the Mormon book of Abraham was translated from an Egyptian funerary text, that Joseph Smith didn’t actually refer to the golden plates when writing the Book of Mormon.

  • I don’t think it’s self-congratulating. I haven’t seen it yet, but I assume it’s as spiritual as any other LDS produced video. I believe it’s supposed to uplift, encourage, inspire, both members and non members. And hero people understand better a group of people that is often misunderstood. I love that my tithing is going into such a worthwhile investment.