“Morality for Youth Film Involves Youth, Leaders, in Defining Moral Standards,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 74–77
Morality for Youth is a movie with a powerful message. Better still, the message doesn’t end when the lights go on or the video machine clicks off. In fact, that’s when the real learning begins.
Back in 1977, when the film was being planned under the direction of the General Authorities, it was agreed that the subject must be handled sensitively but in a way that would make a difference. Richard Hart, manager of audiovisual materials for the Church, was a member of that initial planning committee. “We all admitted,” he recalls, “that one motion picture could not make a major dent in the problem of sexual morality. What was needed was an overall effort beginning in the home and extending through the organizations of the Church.”
The final production was designed as a personalized teaching tool and utilizes the concept of group discussion to reinforce the film’s message. A six-page user’s guide accompanies the film suggesting “ways that stake presidents, bishops, youth advisers, teachers, and parents can use the film to help youth (1) understand the Lord’s standard of morality; (2) accept and desire to live that standard; and (3) learn how, with the Lord’s help, they can keep themselves morally clean and help others stay morally clean.” The pamphlet, prepared by the Curriculum Planning and Development Division, provides parents and leaders with suggested discussion questions which will help young people to relate events portrayed in the film to standards of sexual morality.
Brother Kenneth Derr of the Curriculum Department explains the rationale behind such an approach. “Many times we’ll go watch a motion picture that has a very structured message; then, when it’s over, we go home saying that it was a very moving experience. For many this might be true. But for others, they have had neither a spiritual experience nor a learning experience. If, on the other hand, we take a film that is a little more open-ended, that presents some discussion opportunities and ideas, and then we create, in print, something which helps the parent or leader to structure those ideas under the influence of the Spirit, we are encouraging a spiritual experience to take place. The film itself provides the vehicle, or the catalyst, for that to happen. I think that’s where media can be very effective in the Church.”
Morality for Youth is a major effort to introduce such an open-ended structure. The film chronicles the adventures of a group of young Latter-day Saints on a day-long river trip, complete with rapid-running and its inherent dangers. That evening around a friendly campfire, the bishop reviews the day’s challenges and compares them to life’s experiences and temptations in the area of sexual morality. The young people then share their own ideas about how they can stay morally clean. Included in the movie are taped interviews of young Latter-day Saints sharing their varied observations, as well as taped remarks by President Spencer W. Kimball.
In designing the film, the planning committee felt that the Lord’s standard had been explained very carefully by President Kimball (see “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 94; New Era, Nov. 1980, p. 38), so they didn’t want to duplicate that. They wanted to identify the Lord’s standard of morality, but do it very briefly. The real focus of the film is to have viewers make the commitment to live the Lord’s standard. The idea is that if a person can control his feelings and be wise in the friends he has and the places he goes, then he can stay morally clean.
Jayne Malan, a writer and former Young Women general board member assigned to work on the film, recalls that “We had to search for a long time to find a vehicle to accomplish our purpose. Years into the project, we read President Kimball’s New Era article on morality and were impressed with his observation that youth of the Church are traveling oceans which to you are at least partially uncharted, where there are shoals and rocks and icebergs and other vessels, and where great disasters can come unless warnings are heeded. (New Era, Nov. 1980, p. 39.) That was what triggered our minds,” she says, “and this concept of a river trip evolved. Once we hit upon the vehicle of the message, then it really began to catch fire.”
The film’s river sequence is dramatic enough to catch the attention of any viewer. Some twenty youth from Provo and Salt Lake were recruited as cast members. Their assignment was to raft down a segment of the Snake River between Jackson and Alpine, Wyoming—and smile.
“Bless the hearts of those kids who were on that river trip,” says Jesse E. Stay, the film’s producer. “It was in the fall, and so cold up there. The wind was blowing at about fifty knots, everyone was soaking wet, and it was a miserable time. But they just played their parts so well, and hung in there for the two or three days they stayed, making that seven-mile run several times each day—not to mention letting themselves be tipped over in the boat.”
Sister Malan feels that the river metaphor is exciting and convincing without undermining the film’s central theme. She reflects on the challenges to this project:
“The biggest problem of all was, how do you talk about immorality without making it look glamorous? Even talking about it raises the interest level, and then you run the risk of experimentation. You don’t want to visually portray immorality—but you’ve got to trigger in the viewers’ minds something that is going to make them understand that certain actions are not worthy or righteous. So our big challenge was dealing with a subject this delicate, and doing it in a tasteful way that would not offend either parents or the young people.”
What the film tries to do is to encourage conversation on the subject of morality between youth leaders and the youth, and particularly between parents and youth. Parents and young people who see the film together should find it easy to do just that by talking about what the Prophet says in the film.
Brother Stay emphasizes that the prophet’s remarks are central to the film’s impact. “President Kimball has been so direct and so straightforward in saying what the Lord’s standard is, and to present the Lord’s standard, and the standard of his church, as undeviating. It’s not a faded and outworn garment; it’s the same now as it always has been, and it doesn’t change with the times. That’s the kind of message we hope will come across in the film, and we hope that as a result of seeing this, parents and youth leaders and young people will be freer to talk with each other about this subject.”
At a special fireside held December 5 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and broadcast by satellite to some 500 U.S. locations, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency addressed youth and young adults of the Church, and the twenty-two minute film was shown. Distribution of the film will continue to be implemented through priesthood channels. In a letter to executive administrators dated 19 August 1982, President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve outlined the authorized procedure for use of “this important teaching aid”:
“1. Executive Administrators are encouraged to show the motion picture in area councils prior to December 31, 1982. Regional Representatives are then encouraged to show the motion picture to each regional council.
“2. Following instructions by the Regional Representative, each stake president should implement the film in his stake. It should be shown to all parents and adults working with youth. Parents of youth should be encouraged to use the motion picture or the filmstrip in family home evenings. It should then be shown to the youth either at a stake or ward fireside where the stake president or bishop presides.
“3. The motion picture or filmstrip may then be further implemented in Aaronic Priesthood, Young Women, seminary and institute, youth Sunday School, Relief Society, and Melchizedek Priesthood lessons.”
Those responsible for designing and producing Morality for Youth are realistic in their evaluation of the film’s impact. “This film,” says Brother Derr, “will not give the young people or the leaders everything they need or want.” The most important factor in using the film successfully, he believes, is the follow-up discussion. “The film and user’s guide together comprise a real teaching tool.” He suggests that while the film may be shown initially to a large group, “the ideal is to get the youth in small discussion groups to promote discussion and interaction. The most important discussion group is parents and children in the home.”
Brother Hart adds that “As people call in from the field, their response is almost always that the discussion after the film is more important than the film itself.” He explains that the discussion can be suited to individual circumstances:
“Bishops are to show it to ward leaders and parents and teach them how to use it. Obviously, the discussion you’d have with a Laurel class would be different than a discussion in a deacons quorum—and that’s why the discussion is so important. The user’s guide is designed so that parents, leaders, or bishops can adapt it to the level of their audience.
“I would think that the people who have the best experiences with this film,” he continues, “are those who treat the subject of changing behavior and making a commitment to the Lord’s standard of morality, rather than simply showing the film. If they focus on the broader experience, and see the film as a tool for doing that, then they’ll have a marvelous experience. But if they focus on the film, they’ll fall short.”
He stresses adequate preparation on the part of leaders and parents. “There are so many people,” he says, “who are accustomed to not even previewing a film before they show it. But if they’re not prepared with this particular film, having previewed it and studied the user’s guide, they will not be prepared to ask appropriate questions afterward.”
Members of the film’s planning committee feel that parents and leaders who show the film without a follow-up discussion will be missing the opportunity to positively affect the lives of the youth whom they have a responsibility to teach. Those who allow the motion picture to take the place of a mother and a father sitting down with their son or daughter and having an in-depth discussion will have robbed both themselves and their children of a beautiful experience with the Spirit. Used effectively, the film can take viewers to a higher level of spiritual experience.
As its title suggests, Morality for Youth is geared primarily toward young people in the Church. Yet its theme is of vital importance to all members of the Church, whether they are young or not so young. Hence, it is recommended for use by Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies. The film should be viewed by adults in two contexts—as a vehicle to teach their children, and also as instruction in basic principles that they should understand for themselves. The principles are the same for both youth and adults.
Producer Jesse Stay’s feeling about the film is that “it will strengthen the good young people of the Church in their resolves, and it might be helpful to those who have gone astray. President Kimball says in the film, ‘We love you; there is a way back.’ The reality of repentance is part of the message.”
The youth who have viewed the film thus far have been very receptive and grateful that something of this nature has now been done.”
The filmstrip version of Morality for Youth (VVOF3878) is available for $2.50 at the Salt Lake Distribution Center; 16mm copies (VVMP2483) cost $80; video cassette copies in VHS (VVVH0089) or BETA (VVVB0087) formats are available for $34.95. (The video cassette will also include four additional films: The Restoration of the Priesthood, Families are Forever, For the Strength of the Hills, and The Seattle Temple: The House of the Lord.) Users’ guides for Morality for Youth (PXIC0810) are available for $.20 each.