John Hollenhorst Reporting
A movie that hasn't even been released yet is drawing strong reaction from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Internet previews of the film portray the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre and strongly suggest direct involvement by then church President Brigham Young.
The writer-director of "September Dawn" told us his portrayal is historically accurate. The church calls it a distortion, and some, but not all, historians agree. Some analysts predict the portrayal of 19th-century fanaticism will upset many in Utah and possibly hurt Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
The movie trailer portrays the massacre as religious terrorism, implying direct involvement of Brigham Young.
Terence Stamp as Brigham Young: "I am the voice of God. And anyone who doesn't like it will be hewn down."
Ted Wilson, Political Analyst: "Well I haven't seen the movie, but the trailer appears to me to be historical yellow journalism."
Political analyst Ted Wilson predicts the film will offend many in Utah.
Ted Wilson: "Well I think it re-opens an old wound the church is very sensitive to."
Board members of the Utah Westerners were meeting so we showed them the trailer. One hundred fifty years after the fact, these eight historians and history buffs don't agree on Brigham Young's role in the massacre.
Will Bagley, Historian: "Brigham Young was the man in charge, and that's where the orders originated."
John Eldredge, Historian: "I do believe he found out about the massacre after the fact and probably was involved in some of the cover up."
In a show of hands only three of the eight agree that Young ordered the massacre, and one more said Young condoned it. All eight agreed he covered up the facts.
Writer-director Christopher Cain told us his film follows historical records closely. It portrays Young condoning, but not ordering, the massacre.
Christopher Cain: "I would say one of his speeches said that he felt that there was a need to protect his people." Q: By doing violence?" A: "By doing violence."
The director says he was drawn to the subject by parallels with modern-day religious fanaticism.
But Cain says it has nothing to do with today's Mormons.
Christopher Cain: "One hundred fifty years ago we condoned slavery in the country. Times have changed dramatically."
The film will likely premiere while Mitt Romney is on the campaign trail.
Ted Wilson: "And it could be a difficult thing for him if it portrays Mormons in a weird, funny way."
Paul Felt, Utah Westerners: "I just think at this time when people are still deciding about Mormons and whether they want to vote for a Mormon as president, that can't be very helpful." The LDS Church issued a statement today which said, "From what we know of this movie, it is a fictional portrayal before, during, and after the tragic events at Mountain Meadows in 1857. This film is a serious distortion of history."
It's scheduled to open May 4th in about a thousand theaters nationwide.