Church Preparing Film for Prophet’s 200th Birthday
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“Church Preparing Film for Prophet’s 200th Birthday,” Ensign, Jan. 2005, 77–78

Church Preparing Film for Prophet’s 200th Birthday

Journeying down a narrow, tree-lined road just off a traffic-packed street in Provo, Utah, one can find a little piece of 19th-century New York. It is a little settlement where the men still wear beards and suspenders and the women wear ringlets and carry parasols. But this small town is a little different from the real 1820 version—it also has high-tech cameras, state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, and a director yelling, “Cut!”

It is the set for the new Church-produced motion picture Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. The film will premiere in the 500-seat Legacy Theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in December 2005, marking the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth, on December 23, 1805. The new film will replace The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd, currently playing in the Legacy Theater.

The one-hour film will “testify of Joseph Smith’s sacred calling,” says Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Quorum of the Seventy and executive director of the Church Audiovisual Department. “[Joseph Smith] is so foundational to the Church. We want to honor his legacy and [the Church] can in a way no one else could. The 200th anniversary [of his birth] is a good time to do it.” The film, he says, will “capture the majesty of the Prophet.”

To make sure the script is accurate, it has been historically researched, examined by the Church’s Correlation Department, and reviewed by several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and by the First Presidency. “A film does not get much better than its script,” producer Ron Munns says. “Doctrinally it is sound; historically it is accurate. Hopefully people will learn some things and feel some things.”

The film spans Joseph Smith’s life, so four actors were cast to portray him. There is a young Joseph, a 14-year-old Joseph, a 17-year-old Joseph, and a mature Joseph, Elder Hallstrom says. On the last week of filming in October 2004, the actor portraying 17-year-old Joseph, 19-year-old Dustin Harding, got a day off from his new calling as a full-time missionary for the Church. He was needed to complete a few scenes that could not be finished before he was to report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo. He is now serving in New Hampshire, near the Prophet Joseph’s birthplace.

While shooting, the cast and crew have felt a unique and special spirit, Brother Munns says. Every actor and crew member working on the film is an active member of the Church. They begin every day with prayer, knowing that they can make this film better than any Hollywood production because “they know that the Spirit can expand their talents, efforts, and abilities.”

And once the film is complete, members and those of other faiths will be able to feel the Spirit as they watch how the Prophet Joseph became an instrument in the Lord’s hands.

Cast and crew members prepare to film a scene for the Church film Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. (Photograph by Shanna Butler.)