LDS Filmmaker Brings Stories of Early Saints to Life
Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
“I don’t have any ancestors who pulled handcarts, let alone those who were among the rescuers. But I still share in that heritage of people who had those strong testimonies and were able to overcome adversity the way they did and go on to live great lives.”—T. C. Christensen, LDS filmmaker
It was a childhood fascination with cameras that introduced T. C. Christensen to filmmaking. But it was storytelling that led him to a career in it.
Brother Christensen—whose father made home movies as early as the 1950s and whose uncle was a combat cameraman—decided when he was a young teenager that he wanted to make movies. “I was just drawn to it,” he said. “I didn’t care so much about being in the movie. I was fascinated by the machine.”
Once he got behind the machine, he felt drawn to telling powerful stories. And while his work has covered a broad spectrum of topics, several of the stories he has told—Only a Stonecutter, Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story, and his latest work, 17 Miracles, among them—have been the stories of early Latter-day Saints.
“We have a rich heritage in the Church, and there are so many great untold stories,” Brother Christensen said. “Really, I think a lot of the reason I’ve done [movies about the early Saints] is that I’m attracted to good stories.“
Any story—whether film or literature—that doesn’t have relevance to our day is “only entertainment,” he said. “The stories I’ve been drawn to have messages we can benefit from if we take them into our hearts, learn them, and see other people dealing with their problems and how they came out on top.”
Those stories are meaningful for the descendants of pioneers, he said, but also for anyone who has become a Latter-day Saint, and in so doing joined in the Church’s collective heritage.
“President Uchtdorf gave a talk about that and solidified that idea that we are all adopted in once we become members of the Church,” he said. “I don’t have any ancestors who pulled handcarts, let alone those who were among the rescuers. But I still share in that heritage of people who had those strong testimonies and were able to overcome adversity the way they did and go on to live great lives.”
In making these films, Brother Christensen has been involved at every stage—from research to developing the script to production and post-production work.
“Just doing the research is life-changing,” he said. For instance, as he was conducting research for 17 Miracles, he began noticing a pattern: “So many times a family would be on the trek and things would get really bad,” he said. “They would be in dire circumstances, and then the Lord would bless them with a miracle—not always a miracle that got them out of that situation and [to a point] where they had no problems, but a sustaining miracle. That’s when I got hooked on doing this story—when I realized that this was a story that was redemptive.”
“Film is just an amazing way of teaching, of bearing testimony,” he adds. “It’s mass media. If you make something that is well received and makes a difference in people’s lives, … it can go across the world.”
And the messages of the pioneers are ones he hopes do go across the world. “I think that anyone who has been a member of the Church for any length [of time] at all really needs to know what a great heritage we have and how much has been sacrificed for us,” he said. “I just hope that through the films I’m involved with those thoughts can be brought to the forefront so that people can be reminded of how important it is to be faithful.”