“New Films Focus on Nauvoo and Joseph Smith,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 112
Visitors to Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois, now have the opportunity to see Joseph Smith and his “city beautiful” through the eyes of contemporary witnesses.
The Prophet Joseph and the city he founded are featured in two new Church films used in visitors’ centers at Nauvoo and at the newly remodeled Carthage Jail complex. The productions recreate some of the settings and the ambience of the 1830s and 1840s, with the spoken part of the two productions consisting almost entirely of the words of people who knew Joseph Smith and visited or lived in the thriving city of Nauvoo.
The two films focus not on martyrdom and conflict, but on the life and accomplishments of Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints. The theme of the films is in keeping with a request made by Elder Loren C. Dunn of the First Quorum of the Seventy for historical films to communicate the spirit of the gospel to nonmember viewers. Elder Dunn is President of the Church’s North America Central Area, where Nauvoo and Carthage are located, and is also president of Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.
He pointed out that “members of the Church justifiably look on Nauvoo as part of their spiritual heritage,” and that a high percentage of the nonmembers drawn to Nauvoo and Carthage because of their historic significance are agreeable to a contact from missionaries. The theme for the Carthage movie should be “a healing one,” he suggested. “The legacy of Joseph Smith, rather than his martyrdom, should be the main message of the film.” He requested a film about Nauvoo that would emphasize, for both members and nonmembers, “the mission and message of Joseph Smith.”
Gary Cook of the Church’s Curriculum Department wrote the scripts for the films and was also involved in producing them. He said the stories have been told through firsthand impressions of people who lived at the time, taken from journals, diaries, and letters. “Even the themes of the musical scores are based on tunes that were popular at the time,” Brother Cook said. For example, “The Soldier’s Tear,” a favorite of Joseph Smith, was used as a theme for the Carthage production.
Filming for the two productions was completed on location in Illinois during May of this year. Paved streets were covered with dirt; period carriages, wagons, livestock, and props were found; and hundreds of cast members were costumed in period dress to give the films the look of authenticity. Sets depicting a riverboat landing and the corner of the temple were constructed.
Principal characters in the film were played by Church members. Local LDS wards furnished hundreds of extras for the filming, but cast members also included several members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and many other people from towns in the area. The Nauvoo Ward prepared meals for the cast and crew and assisted with many other behind-the-scenes production chores as well.
Shooting was finished on May 26, and the Carthage film premiered on June 27, when the renovated Carthage Jail complex was dedicated. The Nauvoo film premiered in October.
Working on the films was a moving experience, Brother Cook recalled. “There is a spirit about Nauvoo and Carthage” that caught hold “in the hearts of all of us and produced a consecration of effort. It is hoped that these two films will help in some small way to make more meaningful the experience of all who visit there.”