New Joseph Smith Film Portrays Prophet as Exemplar

“New Joseph Smith Film Portrays Prophet as Exemplar,” Ensign, Jan. 2006, 73–74

New Joseph Smith Film Portrays Prophet as Exemplar

First Presidency input, historically accurate script and sets, vivid cinematography, and a spiritually minded cast and crew all played a role in the creation of the new feature film on the Prophet Joseph Smith now playing at the Legacy Theater at Temple Square. The new film, which succeeds The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd and Legacy, also began showing at some visitors’ centers at Church historical and temple sites in December.

Under the direction of the First Presidency, Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration was released December 17, 2005, in time for the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birthday.

A Prophet’s Life

The 65-minute film depicts events from Joseph Smith’s life, beginning with his youth in Vermont and ending with his Martyrdom in Illinois at age 38. It helps members and others to become acquainted with Joseph Smith as a man of character, said Ron Munns, the film’s producer.

Elder Ronald T. Halverson of the Quorum of the Seventy, an assistant executive director in the Audiovisual Department, said the film’s portrayal of the Prophet Joseph’s character, difficulties, and accomplishments will encourage viewers to learn “more in-depth of the Prophet so that their testimony is not shallow, but very solid.” He feels that everyone who views the film will be affected. “There is a spiritual impact to the film. You can’t know of the Prophet Joseph and not be changed.”

“We’re trying to really give a feeling for the Prophet Joseph Smith in perhaps a different way than he’s been viewed in the past—not only his prophetic persona, but his personal life and the trials he had to endure,” said Lyle Shamo, managing director of the Audiovisual Department

There are several life lessons that can be learned from Joseph Smith’s example, Brother Munns said. For instance, the way Joseph handled adversity and the way he fulfilled his life’s mission are applicable for all lives and circumstances.

“Joseph was totally dedicated, and he didn’t always get a fair shake with things,” Brother Munns said. “In his life came a lot of adversity, right from the beginning. And yet Joseph was not deterred in his quest for truth and for his desire to do what Heavenly Father wanted him to do.”

Playing the Prophet

After an extensive nationwide search for a temple-worthy member to represent the Prophet, Nathan Mitchell, who previously played the adult Joseph in the recent Church film The Restoration, was again chosen to play the role of the Prophet. Two other actors played the role of Joseph at age seven and as a teenager.

After receiving the role, Brother Mitchell was struck by a line from the hymn “Praise to the Man” (Hymns, no. 27): “Millions shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again.”

“I realized that if this film is to be one of the means by which millions come to know the Prophet, then first I had to know him,” Brother Mitchell said.

He began extensive research of Joseph Smith’s character by reading books and Joseph’s journals and papers and by speaking with Church history professors and others.

“My feelings about the Prophet Joseph are so special to me that I wanted to do him justice,” he said. “I just hope that the audience can have some of those same realizations and that they can start to understand Joseph. Then they will begin to understand his love of the Savior, and they will really feel his testimony.”

Making the Movie

The Lord was mindful of the production of this film, Brother Munns said, citing instances when snow seemed to come on cue or when rain may not have been planned for a particular scene but made it better.

Throughout the filming process, the Spirit was present, said Brother Munns. He said it was often obvious that the Lord enhanced the talents of the cast and crew.

Brother Munns said the consecrated efforts of hundreds went into the production. The movie’s director, Gary Cook, was also the principal screenwriter. T. C. Christensen was the codirector and director of photography. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, and Church composers Merrill Jenson and Arlen Card also combined their talents in a powerful way for the film’s soundtrack, Brother Munns said.

The movie was filmed at the LDS Motion Picture Studio in Provo, Utah; on location at Church history sites in New York and in Nauvoo, Illinois; in a historical village in Canada; and along the Mississippi River in Michigan.

Initially, the film will be offered in five languages in addition to English.

Admission to the movie is free, but advance reservations will be required. Online reservations will be accepted at www.lds.org/events. Telephone reservation requests will be taken at 1-866-LDS-TIKS (1-866-537-8457, toll-free in the U.S.) or at 570-0080 (local calls in the greater Salt Lake City area).

Nathan Mitchell portrays Joseph Smith in the recently released movie about the Prophet. (Photograph by John Luke.)