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SALT LAKE CITY — Filmmaker Christian Vuissa wanted to make a movie that made an impact beyond the 14 million members of the LDS faith.
And after two years of research and 23 days of movie production, Vuissa is seeing how his new film, "Joseph Smith, Volume 1: Plates of Gold," is one more way people can find out the truth about the restored gospel.
The movie has played to sold-out theaters this summer on the East Coast as well as packed theaters in Europe. It will premiere in Utah theaters on Sept. 2.
Vuissa says he is pleased that his movie is making such an impact and hopes it will create the same effect in Utah.
“This movie has had such a great response outside of Utah. We are hoping that Utah audiences will embrace and enjoy the film as much as those who have seen it outside of the state,” he says.
The film details the story behind the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and how Joseph Smith pursues the translation of the plates amidst personal hardships and trials.
Vuissa said that he wanted this movie to examine the prophet’s life that covers the years before the founding of the church, unlike many films about Joseph Smith that cover his life after the church was restored.
And there is also a romantic element in the film.
“The film also captures the courtship and first years of marriage between Joseph and Emma and shows how young the two are during this period. They were basically the same age as our missionaries today,” he said.
When Vuissa was casting the role of Joseph Smith, he said he looked for characteristics that the real Joseph possessed.
“Of course he had to be young. He had to be innocent and playful but also mature enough to be genuine and sincere. With Dustin Harding (Joseph Smith), I found an actor who was able to capture that. He gave Joseph’s character warm and compassionate sincerity, someone capable of keeping hope and faith alive throughout multiple tribulations,” Vuissa said.
Vuissa said it was important to keep the prophet's character realistic.
“Naturally, in many portrayals of the prophet, he appears iconic and larger-than-life. But I believe one of his unique character traits was that he was so down-to-earth and relatable. I wanted to find that human element so audiences could really get acquainted with him as someone who is in many ways like him.”
Vuissa hopes his film will help people realize what an impact the Book of Mormon has had not only in the Latter-day Saint faith but in history, as well as clear up any misconceptions that people have about Joseph Smith.
We are always a work in progress, and Joseph's experience was no different in that aspect. He had to work through doubts, fears and worries, like we all do.
“I think we sometimes assume that Joseph had all the answers from the get-go — that because he had the First Vision and talked with heavenly messengers he basically knew at all times what to do. But like everyone else, he received line upon line and precept upon precept and had to figure things out as he went along,” Vuissa said. “We are always a work in progress, and Joseph’s experience was no different in that aspect. He had to work through doubts, fears and worries, like we all do.”
“My goal as a filmmaker is to portray real people, relatable human beings. I’m interested in exploring humanity in everyday situations and experiences,” he said. “In "Plates of Gold," Joseph’s external struggle always concerns the golden plates; how and when to receive them, how to keep them, how to translate and publish them,” he said. “But the bigger, more important struggle is internal. It is his quest for salvation. This is what brought Joseph to the Sacred Grove in the first place.”
Vuissa said that this film opened his eyes to many truths. Although he had a knowledge of the life of Joseph Smith before making this film, he said that he gained a deeper knowledge and appreciation for the service of both Joseph and Emma.
He said that many people have the same reaction to the film.
“So far, most people who have seen the film come out of the movie theater with a greater appreciation for the prophet Joseph and for the Book of Mormon. They say that through the film, they got to know the prophet on a very personal level and it made them more deeply aware of the sacrifices involved,” Vuissa said.
Vuissa also said that during his research for the film, it was affirmed to him that Joseph was a man who many loved and revered, but also a man whom many people spoke ill of.
“After spending over two years researching history and making this film, I realized that Joseph Smith will always be a polarizing figure. That is one of the first things the angel Moroni tells him in 1823, namely that his name ‘should be both good and evil spoken among all people.’ This is part of the prophecy and probably part of the plan, and will not change regardless,” he said.
For more information about "Joseph Smith, Volume 1: Plates of Gold," please visit www.josephmovie.com, where you can watch the trailer, read audience responses and find locations and showtimes.