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October 21, 2015
Latter-day Books
Faith on Film: LDS Films Based on True Stories
by Laurie Williams Sowby

Two films targeted at an LDS audience claim space in the column this week. Both are available from LDS outlets as well as

From The Saratov Approach director Garrett Batty comes Freetown, a film based on true events in 1989 when Liberia was facing civil strife. Several dedicated native Liberian LDS missionaries crammed into a small car and fled through rebel territory to safety in Sierra Leone’s capital to continue their missions.

It’s a frightening and faith-affirming story that actually happened, but this film takes an awfully long time to tell it. Basically, it feels like a road trip tale with little episodic bits and a lot of preachiness along the way. (The PG-13 rating has to do with violence that could be terrifying to kids.)

On the upside, the film features Jeremy Prusso’s wonderful cinematography of the landscape and people of Ghana, where the film was shot. It’s a close-up glimpse of the culture of its people, including local Latter-day Saints; one scene occurs in a sacrament meeting, and others show missionaries and members praying in their homes.

Drones were used to capture aerial views of the spare landscape. Robert Allen Elliott’s successfully evokes the location and what is about to happen.

A strong effort by an all-African cast can’t overcome the sermonizing in a film where the goal seems more to teach LDS doctrine than tell a an engaging story. This inspirational true story could be better told in half the time. (Three Coin Productions, Go films 2015, 113 minutes on DVD with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, $19.99 on DVD, $24.99 on Blu-Ray.)

A second recent film based on a true story involving LDS members is The Cokeville Miracle, a retelling of the May 1986 incident in Cokeville, Wyoming, when a deranged couple, David and Doris Young, took an elementary school hostage for several hours before detonating a bomb inside the classroom where the entire student body and faculty were being held.

This version, an A.T.C. Christensen film, sets out to be a testimony-builder as it tells the parallel story of Ron Hartley, whose children were in that classroom that day. The experience turned him from jaded skeptic to devout believer — much to his family’s delight, naturally.

A predictable narrative with predictable dialogue is punctuated by some tense moments as teachers try to keep the children calm and appeal to their captors’ humanity. The kids’ experience of seeing and being helped by people beyond the veil — deceased relatives — unfolds slowly, as does Hartley’s belief.

While some elements of the movie seem less professional, many will find it good family entertainment with good discussion material. (Although the cast has several children, the PG-13 film is too intense for kids.)

Extras include an update on Ron Hartley and other survivors, a director’s commentary, and “Behind the Scenes.” (Excel Entertainment, 94 minutes with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, $19.99 on DVD, $24.99 on Blu-Ray.)

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