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SALT LAKE CITY — The filmmaking crew that made one of the most popular LDS films ever is making a sequel 17 years later.
“The Other Side of Heaven,” released in 2001, is the story of Elder John Groberg’s mission to the islands of Tonga in the South Pacific in the 1950s. He left his family members, friends and the woman who would later become his wife, to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now, the original film's director and lead actor will return for “The Other Side of Heaven 2,” which starts shooting next month and will be released in April 2019.
The sequel takes place about 10 years after the events of the first film, when Elder Groberg returned to Tonga as a mission president along with his wife and five kids. The movie is based on the second book Elder Groberg wrote about his experiences, “The Fire of Faith.”
Writer/director Mitch Davis said he wrote a first draft of the movie 10 years ago and has revised it about 20 times over the years.
“Hopefully the audience will still feel the extraordinary faith and strength of the Tongan people,” he said. “Anyone who enjoyed the original film will hopefully feel the same power and spirit in the sequel, multiplied.”
Davis was drawn to Fiji for the film's production, in part because the country’s government offers a $.47 rebate for every dollar spent on film production there.
“I didn’t want to produce this film at a lesser level, so when we found the magic financial formula that made it all possible in Fiji, we struck,” Davis said. “I think audiences will be really excited by what they see and feel in the new film.”
About half of the film’s cast and crew members will be Utahns, including the cinematographer T.C. Christensen, Davis said. Roughly the other half of the crew will be New Zealanders, with many Fijians working on the film as well, he said.
Though Anne Hathaway won't be returning as Jean Groberg, actor Christopher Gorham will reprise his role as Elder John Groberg.
“The attractive thing about coming back to it this time is… the opportunity to pick up an old character and dust him off and see where he is 10 years down the line,” Gorham said.
He said Elder Groberg’s emotional arc will be different in this movie. Though the budget is smaller than the original, filmmaking technology advancements will allow the crew to produce a movie that’s just as epic in scale as the first film, Gorham said.
“I think this movie may end up looking bigger than the first one,” he said. “I actually think this will be a better film.”
Elder Groberg, now an emeritus LDS General Authority Seventy, said he’s happy to have another film made about the principles of faith and family, because those are increasingly important in today’s world, he said.
The new movie also will be a tribute of sorts to late LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who convinced Elder Groberg to write both books so that his story in church history wouldn't be lost, Elder Groberg said.
“I really wrote the books out of obedience to his request, but I’m grateful that the message of them through film now has been able to reach a lot of the world,” he said.
When Elder Groberg was a mission president in Tonga, President Monson was the apostle who oversaw the work of the LDS Church in that part of the world, Davis said, and visited the Grobergs several times.
A younger President Monson will be featured as a character in “The Other Side of Heaven 2,” played by the actor Russell Dixon, Davis said.
“He appears and plays an important role in the dramatic moments of our film,” Davis said. “I think audiences will take great pleasure in seeing him… so full of vim and vigor and enthusiasm, and we’re going to try and have that on the screen for all to enjoy and see.”