Motion Pictures, LDS Productions
Author: Johnson, Peter N.
As early as 1913, when the motion picture industry was in its early stages, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed an interest in using the film medium: "The moving picture together with all the other modern inventions is to help us carry the Mission of Christ to all the world, and to bring humanity home to the true principles of salvation" (Young, p. 80). With the sanction of President Joseph F. Smith, Shirley "Shirl" Young Clawson and his brother Chester filmed many Church events and leaders from 1916 to 1929 in black and white and without sound. This era of film production for the Church ended tragically, however, when a fire killed Shirl Clawson and destroyed the studio and many of the films. The Church's next major move into film production began in the 1950s and has resulted in many award-winning items among the programs produced for home, classroom, and missionary use.
In 1946 Wetzel O. "Judge" Whitaker, chief of animation for Walt Disney Studios, invited three members of the quorum of the Twelve apostles-Elders Harold B. Lee, Mark E. Petersen, and Matthew Cowley-to tour the Disney Studios in Burbank, California. They were impressed with the potential of motion pictures to teach principles of the gospel. In that same year, wards, stakes, and missions began to be provided with motion picture projectors. Whitaker produced the first two films for the Church on a volunteer basis: Church Welfare in Action and The Lord's Way.
In January 1953 Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, created a department of motion picture production to produce films to be used by the Church and appointed Judge Whitaker as its founding director. The department produced poignant and appealing films such as Come Back My Son based on a story from the improvement era about reactivating an adult member of the Aaronic Priesthood. How Near to the Angels, the most ambitious LDS film project at that time, was a significant milestone because of its dramatic nature though it was only fifty minutes long. The film had as its theme temple marriage. A Time for Sowing showed the effect parents have on the behavior of their children. Time Pulls the Trigger looked at the connection between smoking and premature death. With All Your Heart showed a relationship between a spiritually sensitive bishop and reverence in Church meetings. My Brother's Keeper and Shannon dramatized the reclaiming of less active members of the Church. The Search for Truth presented the rational observations and testimonies of scientists on the reconciliation of science and religion. Worth Waiting For taught that happy marriages are worth preparing for. The most challenging film produced in this first decade of Church film production, and an enduring favorite, was Windows of Heaven, a film on blessings through the law of tithing.
Man's search for happiness, the first film written for a non-Mormon audience about the purpose of life, premiered at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, where it was viewed by five million people. This film was subsequently translated into more languages than any previous Church film, including Afrikaans, Cantonese, Creole, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Finnish, French, French-Canadian, German, Hmong, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Navajo, Norwegian, Portuguese, Quechua, Quiche, Samoan, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Taiwanese, Thai, Tongan, and Vietnamese. A Japanese version was filmed in Japan and premiered at the 1970 World's Fair Expo there.
No More a Stranger demonstrated the importance of fellowshipping new members in a ward. And Should We Die taught the principle of fasting and prayer. The Three Witnesses, a dramatic reenactment of the story of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, was used widely throughout the Church in teaching this aspect of early Church history. Meet the Mormons featured many on-camera, spontaneous interviews and testimonies, and showed the international nature of the Church. It was also translated into many languages. Where Jesus Walked is about the life of Christ and was filmed in the Holy Land.
In addition to the BYU motion picture studio, KSL television has preserved on film many speeches by General Authorities and selected specials, such as Nauvoo, and Cumorah, Hill of History. In 1967 Bonneville Media Communications was organized as a broadcast production facility to help develop a positive media image for the Church and to convey its doctrines and beliefs. Bonneville's direct gospel messages have included Our Heavenly Father's Plan; Together Forever; What is Real; and Labor of Love. Seasonal gospel films included Mr. Krueger's Christmas, Nora's Christmas Gift; an animated version of Henry Van Dyke's The Other Wise Man; O. Henry's Easter story The Last Leaf; and Easter Dream. Radio and television public service announcements broadcast regularly by over 14,000 stations worldwide, called the Homefront Series, are intended to promote family solidarity and to raise awareness of some basic teachings of the Church.
On September 1, 1974, Jesse E. Stay replaced Whitaker as head of the BYU motion picture studio. During Stay's tenure, Go Ye Into All the World; The First Vision; Restoration of the Priesthood; and Morality for Youth were completed.
On September 1, 1983, Peter N. Johnson replaced Stay and oversaw the production of Teaching, A Renewed Dedication; Five-Year Retrospective of the Church in Action; Cameos on General Authorities; Teacher, Do You Love Me?; Lamp Unto My Feet; Things of My Soul, a remake of Man's Search for Happiness; How Rare a Possession: The Book of Mormon; and Called to Serve- the major Church productions of the 1980s.
In 1991, control of the motion picture studio was transferred from BYU to the Audiovisual Department of the Church.
Jacobs, David Kent. "The History of Motion Pictures Produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1967.
Whitaker, Wetzel O. Pioneering with Film: A Brief History of Church and Brigham Young University Films. Provo, Utah, n.d.
Young, Levi Edgar. ""Mormonism' in Picture." Young Woman's Journal 24 (Feb. 1913):80.
PETER N. JOHNSON