By Scot Facer Proctor
I was born with a love for the Prophet Joseph. You may have noticed that over the years on Meridian as I have done photo essays on various places significant to the Restoration.
For the past five years I’ve been thinking about what I might do to really celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph’s birth – and truly honor him. At one point I had a five-page list of things that I wanted to do, all of which were quite major items. Out of everything on the list, I just chose one. I made a movie about Joseph.
Yes, I made a movie about the Prophet Joseph. My background and education are in the film and video production business, so I went ahead and did it.
For the past nearly two decades I have done a multi-media fireside on the Prophet Joseph – a two-hour show using some of my best photos of the Church historical sites and telling some of the most compelling stories of the Prophet Joseph. People have called it “a panoramic view of Joseph’s life, from Sharon to Carthage.” I’ve called it Witness of the Light, named after the book Maurine and I did after that same name in 1991. I’ve shown this fireside in literally hundreds of stakes across the United States.
After every fireside, never fail, numbers of people would come up to me or to Maurine and say, “Do you guys have this on video?” “Are you planning to release this on a DVD?” “Is this available in any format so I can show my family at home?” I would always tell people that we really couldn’t replicate the experience of the fireside on a television set. I was wrong.
For ten months now we have been poring over this project. We have produced what I believe is a compelling, powerful movie. We combed through literally thousands and thousands of stunning images (from my enormous church history archive of more than 50,000 photos) to find the very best ones that would tell this timeless and powerful story. We then took a film crew and went to Nauvoo and Carthage to film a number of segments to bridge the live part of the show together. We then gathered the most wonderful music from our dear friend, Merrill Jenson (who has done the musical scores for Legacy, Testaments, and the new movie on Joseph Smith to be released December 17th) and from the gifted guitarist/musician Michael Dowdle. What has come of all this is quite remarkable.
When I sent an initial “scratch copy” to Kieth Merrill, Meridian‘s film editor, to get his honest opinion, he wrote back and said this:
I just finished watching Witness of the Light. As well as I know this story, I was enthralled from beginning to end. As much as I thought I knew about this story I was fascinated by facts, reflections and anecdotes I’ve never known. Being hopelessly right-brained and in love and spellbound by images, I found myself awash in your marvelous photographs. Having created Legacy ? and made an attempt to re-create portions of the history with moving pictures ? I was yet astounded by your juxtaposition of history with actual locations ? and stories with artifacts and remnants. I found it in fact remarkable that so much of it remains to be seen; undeveloped, rural and much like it must have been. Thank you SOOO much for making this such a personal exploration. Thank you taking me and staying with me very step of the way. Your soothing voice and utter confidence in telling the story are irresistible. Your images of the Sacred Grove, the “Sacred Susquehanna,” and extraordinary landscapes were all marvelous context for the detailed close-ups in which your candid narrative enable me to see the imprint and impression of the prophet. You have created yet one more legacy of your own faith. Witness of the Light is a unique exploration of the prophet Joseph that draws much of its power from your own reverent testimony. That you have walked in his world and come to know him and come to love him with cause can not help but strengthen all who are fortunate enough to go on this journey with you.
Although we had a “sneak preview” in Suitland, Maryland (to an audience of a thousand Saints), the initial showing of the movie was in Palmyra, New York – we call it “the Palmyra Premiere” – on Friday, November 4, 2005. About a thousand people were in attendance there for a symposium on the Prophet Joseph and we were asked to open the conference with our presentation. The response was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. When asked for his response to the movie, Richard Bushman, undoubtedly the foremost Joseph Smith scholar in the Church, wrote:
The Proctors have produced a vigorous, inspiring account of Joseph Smith’s life and the origins of the Church. The beauty of the photographs and the vitality of Scot Proctor’s narration are an ideal medium for narrating the heroism and struggle inherent in Joseph Smith’s story.
One man at the Palmyra Premiere said, “I feel like this movie is of epic proportion. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Another said, “All the pieces of Church History have fallen in place for me. I feel like I understand the story as a whole now.” One other said, “You said you wanted every person who ever sees this (no exceptions) to learn at least five new things. I feel like I’ve learned at least twenty. Many of those stories, well, I’ve just never heard them before.” One woman said, “I completely forgot where I was. How long was this anyway?” I said to her, “Over two hours.” She said, “I could have sworn it was only an hour.”
What’s so Unique About This Movie?
So, why this movie and what’s so unique about it? I always like to go to the very places where the events of Church History took place. I like to be in the very rooms (where possible) in which Joseph received the sacred revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants. I want to walk the actual dirt road that led from Nauvoo to Carthage and climb the actual stairs of that infamous Jail. And more importantly, I have wanted to take all of you, our beloved Meridian readers, to all those places as well.
The thing that is so unique about this film – done in sort of a Ken Burns’ style – is that all the places we see and visit (save a rare couple of exceptions) are the actual sites, the rooms, the homes, the buildings, the very fields where these events of the Restoration took place. I do not make any attempts to shoot a similar looking period village or a home that may have looked about the same as the one I’m talking about in the narration. I call it truth in art. I believe there is power in this – and I believe you will feel that.
Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Let me give you an example. There is very little known about the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood except that it took place along the banks of the Susquehanna River. Ah, but Addison Everett, an early member of the Church, documented that Joseph told him that it took place some 16 or 17 miles up river from Harmony. This makes sense and goes right along with how Joseph describes it in the 128th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome County, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!” (D&C 128: 20). I spent a half a day just measuring the distances on the Susquehanna River from Harmony and from Colesville (now Ninevah), New York. I photographed the whole area between 16 and 17 miles up river from Harmony (even giving some slack for small changes in the river’s course over the past 176 years). I think, as you see those pictures, the details of the sacred and little-known story of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood will come alive for you.
Visits of Moroni and Joseph on the Hill Cumorah
Let me give you one more example (you really have to see these things in the movie to appreciate them). The visitations of the Angel Moroni to the Prophet Joseph are so significant to the whole scheme of the Restoration, I wanted to be as accurate as I could be to make that part of the story come alive. So, I went to the Hill Cumorah on September 22nd (the date of the yearly visits of Moroni to Joseph on that Hill) and shot all my pictures to be used for the film on that date. I was frankly surprised. I would have thought that the fall colors would have been in full splendor. I was wrong. The colors are a rich, almost spring-like green. I went to the west side of the hill, not far from the top (as Joseph described it) and shot all my pictures in that vicinity. I also did one more thing with those pictures – in some cases I gently and carefully overexposed some of those frames so as to give the feeling of a being of light in the vicinity. It really gives quite a feeling to those particular exposures – all done “in camera” and “on location” – the very location. I think you’ll like that.
Is the Movie Going to Be Available?
Starting today, we will be taking “pre-orders” for the film. The masters are on their way to the Replicator in South Carolina. The glass master will be pressed. The first “pressing,” if you will, of this movie Witness of the Light, A Photographic Journey in the Footsteps of the Prophet Joseph Smith, will be a significant 5,000 copies and the retail price will be a significant $18.30. Don’t worry, we’ll press plenty more, but this is the “first printing,” like the Palmyra edition of the Book of Mormon.
To submit your pre-order for the DVD now (before you finish reading the article) click here: www.latterdaysaintmag.com/joseph
The DVD’s will be deliverable before Christmas, but I don’t look at Christmas as the cutoff date of this timeless piece. It was made to honor and celebrate the birth of the Prophet Joseph. It is being released in December 2005. The goal was to have the film done by this month. It is done and it is timeless.
To aid you in your families we’ve authored a section in the title page of the DVD called “FHE Stories.” I’ve had our great editor, Alex Bradley, actually tag 52 of my favorite stories (one a week for a year for Family Home Evening if you like) so that you can easily access them for a lesson aid or an inspirational story for your family. You’ll be able to click on a box, for example, and be taken right to the story of Sophronia’s (Joseph’s sister) near death from typhoid fever. You’ll be able to click on another box and just hear the harrowing story of the mobbing at Hiram, Ohio. Click on another box and you’ll be taken to the story behind the receiving of the Word of Wisdom on February 27, 1833. Click on yet another of the 52 choices and you will hear the moving and tender story of the Martyrdom. If you just had the stories alone it would be worth the eighteen dollars and thirty cents.
And we’ve added many more features as well. In the next few days (and weeks) we will run a number of stories on Witness of the Light including a full review from Kieth Merrill himself.
Again, to pre-order the movie now and have one of the first 5,000, click here: www.latterdaysaintmag.com/joseph
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.