New Movie Highlights Members' Individuality, Diversity

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News staff writer

  • 21 August 2014

Blair Treu is the writer and director of the new Church documentary, Meet the Mormons.

Article Highlights

  • The new feature-length film, Meet the Mormons, highlights the lives of six Latter-day Saints who live across the globe.
  • From the movie audiences will get a sense of what motivates Mormons and the impact the Mormon faith has on its members.

“This is kind of how [Mormons] conduct themselves. This is how they serve others. This is what their homes look like. This is how they try to teach their children. This is how they strive to parent. No one is perfect. … We are just like every other community member trying to do good and be good parents.” —Jermaine Sullivan, Atlanta, Georgia, bishop featured in Meet the Mormons

As movie audiences across the country meet the humanitarian, the coach, the fighter, the bishop, the mom, and the Candy Bomber, they will also get the chance to meet the Mormons.

For the first time in its history, the Church will release a feature-length documentary commercially on October 10.

The new feature-length film, Meet the Mormons, highlights the lives of six Latter-day Saints who live across the globe—in areas spanning from the Himalayan mountains of Nepal to the rain forests of Costa Rica to the Salt Lake Valley.

The ordinary individuals tell extraordinary stories that are authentic—that will uplift and inspire, said producer Jeff Roberts.

“The intent of the film is to help people understand what our members are really like,” said Brother Roberts.

From the movie, he said, audiences will get a sense of what motivates Mormons. “They will get a sense of ways someone’s life is enhanced by living the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He said the film conveys the Mormon faith in terms of the impact it has on the lives of its members. “It does so in a way that is entertaining, uplifting, and engaging. It is not preaching in any way. We are not trying to convert anyone; we are just trying to inform.”

Featured in the film are retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, who was known as the “Candy Bomber” during the 1940s Berlin Airlift; Ken Niumatalolo, head football coach of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; Bishnu Adhikari, a humanitarian and engineer in Nepal; Carolina Muñoz Marin, an amateur kickboxer in Costa Rica; Jermaine Sullivan, an LDS bishop in Atlanta, Georgia; and Dawn Armstrong, a mother living in the Salt Lake Valley.

“How did we find them? Any way we could,” said the film’s writer and director, Blair Treu.

Brother Roberts said they pursued different channels to find the stories and people they featured in the film that would accurately represent the culturally, economically, racially, and geographically diverse population of the Church. They sent a notice to local Church leaders asking for recommendations and engaged their own personal networks.

Producer Jeff Roberts, center back, with Carolina Muñoz Marin and her family in Costa Rica. Sister Marin has fought her way to the top of women’s amateur kickboxing in Costa Rica, challenging the traditional stereotypes of a Mormon woman.

As head football coach of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Ken Niumatalolo balances the pressures of his high-stress job by putting his family and faith first. He tells his story in the new documentary Meet the Mormons.

Jermaine Sullivan, who served as a bishop in the Church, conducts a Church sacrament meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. He now serves as president of the Atlanta Georgia Stake.

LDS film crew interviews humanitarian Bishnu Adhikari in Nepal. After leaving his village to receive a degree in engineering, Brother Adhikari returned to his home in Nepal with a determination to help improve the living conditions of the area.

At left, Blair Treu, writer and director of Meet the Mormons, with retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, known as the “Candy Bomber” during the 1940s Berlin Airlift.

Dawn Armstrong hugs her son Anthony goodbye as he leaves to serve a mission for the Church.

“Ultimately the stories that were selected, in so many ways, were stories we were led to. I know that sounds cliché. In reality that is the way it happened.”

Brother Treu said that individuals featured in the film had to have an important quality: “The gospel has to be evident in the way they live their lives.”

In the beginning, “we were concerned with how we would find these families,” Brother Treu said. “In the end it was more about who we were going to cut because we had so many good options.”

Charged with producing the film for the Legacy Theater in Salt Lake City and for visitors’ centers across the globe, Brother Treu pitched the project to the First Presidency in late 2010. After the project was finished, Church leaders decided to expand the film’s release due to the positive response from both LDS and non-LDS sample audiences.

Brother Treu said the objective was to give the film broader reach, making it available to members and their friends on the big screen—in their own cities and towns—and then eventually on cable TV, Internet streaming, and in the Legacy Theater and visitors’ centers. The film will also be translated into 10 languages. Net proceeds from the commercial release of the film will be donated to charity.

Church leaders have a lot of confidence in their membership, he said. “They never once, not once, ever told us who or where or what to shoot,” he said. “We were tasked with one thing: ‘Try to capture, as best you can, who we really are.’ That is it. … They wanted us to be authentic and real.”

The film opens with clips from popular media that highlight misconceptions about the Church and its members. “We understand that the world and media tend to portray us in a certain way,” said Brother Roberts. “We understand people have misconceptions with who we really are. What better way to communicate that than with humor.”

Jenna Kim Jones, an LDS comedian, is also featured in the opening moments of the film asking random people on the streets in New York City what they know about Mormons.

The documentary also features the song “Glorious” by Stephanie Mabey, performed by David Archuleta.

Brother Treu said when people go to a movie they bring their life experiences with them and use them to interpret what they see. “There is a little something in this film for everyone.”

Brother Treu said he is confident that individuals featured in the film are the same on and off camera. “These are real people, he said.

Gail Halvorsen, who will turn 94 on the day the film opens, said participating in the project was the experience of a lifetime. “I come from very humble beginnings,” he said. “It is a thrill beyond expression. I feel like a sparrow in a flock of eagles.”

For his part in the documentary, Brother Halvorsen—who lives in Arizona—traveled to Berlin.

Of the documentary, he said: “This is the first time something like this has been done, yet it is so representative of the Church—of the worldwide applications of the Savior’s mission for the whole earth.”

Jermaine Sullivan, who was a bishop at the time of filming and now serves as president of the Atlanta Georgia Stake, said he was nervous to begin filming.

I have never had this type of attention focused on me like this,” he said. “I hope that people learn a bit more about who we are, what we believe, what we do to serve and minister and help others.”

He said the crew was with his family all the time for a week. “You couldn’t do anything but show your life the way it was.”

He hopes his life will be representative of the life of all Mormons, that after seeing the film, when viewers hear the word Mormon, “they will imagine a family like mine.”

He wants to communicate that Mormons are just trying—imperfectly—to be like Jesus Christ. “This is kind of how they conduct themselves. This is how they serve others. This is what their homes look like. This is how they try to teach their children. This is how they strive to parent. No one is perfect. … We are just like every other community member trying to do good and be good parents.”

Dawn Armstrong, a young single mother who had hit rock bottom when she met the Mormon missionaries herself, is featured in the film helping her son—now older—prepare for full-time missionary service.

“In a world that seems so quick to tear down, I hope that people will choose to lift up and most important, to look up,” she said. “Let love and understanding be a driving force in your life. I think that is the sincere message of the movie.”

For more information about Meet the Mormons go to www.meetthemormons.com.