Meet the Mormons: New Faces, New Stories

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 1 August 2016

Blair Treu (left), Jeff and Emily Wadman, and Kanasa Kawamitsu talk after a media event for the new Meet the Mormons film in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016.  Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The first Meet the Mormons stories have been recut and are being shown in the Legacy Theater.

“At first I was wondering why they called me, because we are not the perfect family. But that’s exactly what they were looking for—to show the real members.” —Giovanna Raccosta Nazhati, "the artist" in Meet the Mormons

Just two years after the Meet the Mormons film debut, the Church announced new stories and faces will be added to the vignettes showcasing stories of faithful Church members around the world.

“We look for stories and individuals who represent the broad array of the Church,” said Blair Treu, executive producer, writer, and director of Meet the Mormons. “We can’t hope to do it in five or even nine stories, but we try to do the best we can to get as … broad a representation as we can.”

Brother Treu met with participants of the new vignettes for a press conference held in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on July 14.

Meet the Mormons was originally produced to give people, especially those that are not of our faith, a little glimpse into who we are, what makes us tick,” said Brother Treu. He added the purpose of the film was “not so much to get into the details of beliefs—there are plenty of opportunities to do that elsewhere—but to help people understand why we do the things we do.”

The first Meet the Mormons movie was created specifically for the Legacy Theater on Temple Square and other LDS visitors’ centers around the world. It included stories of six people from different backgrounds and countries.

“But that’s not what happened,” Brother Treu said. “An outside consulting firm from Los Angeles took the film out and tested it specifically with those who are not of our faith—individuals and families who don’t know much about Mormons.”

The reviews were positive, so ultimately the First Presidency decided to expand the film’s audience.

“The film played in its opening weekend … in the top ten and now resides … somewhere hovering around the top 30 or so as the top grossing documentaries of all time,” Brother Treu said. “The Church isn’t in the movie business, so what they decided to do is take the proceeds of the theatrical release and donate that to charity.”

Since the movie ended up being available in theaters and later released on DVD, content that had originally been created specifically for the visitors’ centers was accessible to people in their own homes.

“Its success on the outside was kind of a negative for the Legacy Theater because by the time it got to this theater it was anything but fresh and exclusive,” said Brother Treu. “It was already available … on DVD, it was playing on Netflix, and shortly thereafter available on YouTube, so there really wasn’t a reason to come down to see it at the Legacy Theater.”

Because of that, new Meet the Mormons stories were created.

“We have recut new, never-before-seen footage from the original,” said Brother Treu. “In addition to the original, to make the Legacy even more fresh and exciting, we thought we would do a handful of new stories.”

Viewers will “meet” three new Church members who are featured, as well as see new versions of the first six stories in Meet the Mormons.

The new stories have again been created in documentary-style format and, as of July 16, are available to view at the Legacy Theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Starting in August, the new stories will be available by request at the Church’s other English-speaking visitors’ centers around the world. The nine stories will be in a rotation playing every 30 minutes throughout the day.

“Blair looked for people who are very authentic … and who project who they are,” comedian Jenna Kim Jones told the Church News. Sister Jones is the narrator in the original Meet the Mormons and is again in the new segments. “I love that about the film—you watch it and it is genuine. Their testimonies come through in the way they live.”

The new stories are 20-minute vignettes and feature three families from diverse backgrounds—a horse trainer from northeastern Utah, a family of entertainers from Japan, and a woman who was born in Italy and now lives in Las Vegas.

“The Horseman”

Jeff Wadman and his wife, Emily, live on a ranch in Morgan, Utah, where he is a horse trainer. Their story gives viewers a glimpse into the everyday life of a horse trainer and focuses on the importance of family.

“I want everyone to go in there with an open heart and let the Lord tell them what they need to hear,” Brother Waldman told the Church News. He hopes viewers will recognize they are like the horses he trains, that as they let God take control of their lives, “He can make way more out of our lives than we can as long as we are willing to give our hearts to Him.”

Much of their segment focuses on joy that comes from living the gospel and how things go better when a couple works together.

“The Entertainers”

The Kawamitsu family is from Japan and makes up the performing group bless4. The performing group includes four siblings—two brothers, Aiki and Akashi, and two sisters, Kanasa and Akino. Their segment follows the family’s experiences as they have learned how to balance being members of the Church and performers. For almost two years, the siblings have had to learn how to perform without their younger brother, Aiki, as he has been serving a mission.

“Our fans have called us ‘faithful members’ of the Church on many websites,” Akashi told the Church News in an interview. “We are glad for the opportunity, but at the same time we had to make sure we were ready for the responsibility. We hope that [our video] will influence other people’s lives and that they see that Mormons are just normal people.”

In the film, both Kanasa and Akino open up about personal struggles they have been through.

“We hope sharing our story helps others feel that they aren’t alone,” said Kanasa. “Every single person is beautiful, and we are all children of God.”

“The Artist”

Giovanna Raccosta Nazhati was a young woman when she joined the Church in Italy. After serving a mission in her own country she moved to the United States, where she met and married Bardia Nezhati, who was not a member of the Church. Her story shares some of the joys and struggles her family has experienced.

“At first I was wondering why they called me, because we are not the perfect family,” she told the Church News. “But that’s exactly what they were looking for—to show the real members.”

Sister Nazhati’s story was included in the first Meet the Mormons DVD in the bonus features. The updated vignette shares the changes her family has experienced since their first vignette. The new section focuses on her and her husband—along with their three children—as they work together to serve other people.

“In the movie they call me the artist, so people are looking for some artwork and they aren’t going to see anything,” she said. “Art is your life and the brush is the love that you have for others. The details in the artwork, in the masterpiece, come out … in life in your work. In the end, it is how you enrich life with the tools you have been given.”

No tickets are required to see the films. Visit the website legacytheater.lds.org for more information regarding showtimes and information. To join in on the online conversation, use the hashtag #MeetTheMormons on social media platforms.

The cast of the new Meet the Mormons film laughs as they gather for a group photo in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Giovanna Raccosta Nazhati was a young woman when she joined the Church in Italy. Meet the Mormons shares her story as “the artist.” Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Giovanna Raccosta Nazhati was a young woman when she joined the Church in Italy. Meet the Mormons shares her story as “the artist.” Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Yoshiko, Akino, Kanasa, and Akashi Kawamitsu laugh in an interview in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Jeff Wadman, left, and his wife, Emily, give an interview in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Yoshiko Kawamitsu, left, watches as her daughters, Akino, second from left, and Kanasa, and her son Akashi are interviewed about their role in the upcoming Meet the Mormons film in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. The three siblings with their youngest brother, Aiki, who is serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are members of bless4, an entertainment group in Japan. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Jeff Wadman, left, and his wife, Emily, talk about their role as ranchers in the new Meet the Mormons film in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Jenna Kim Jones, narrator of Meet the Mormons, left and Blair Treu, director of the film, answer questions in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Blair Treu, director of Meet the Mormons, speaks to media in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Blair Treu, director of Meet the Mormons, introduces new cast members to the media in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Blair Treu, director of Meet the Mormons, laughs at a media event in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

The Kawamitsu family attends a media event in Salt Lake City, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.