“The Saratov Approach” is quietly making box office history. The real-life story of two Mormon missionaries who were kidnapped, tortured, and held hostage in Russia for nearly a week in 1998, continues to draw in movie audiences around the country.
Director Garrett Batty successfully controls and leads a film that is all together suspenseful, entertaining, and faith-promoting. This film should not be categorized as low-budget, cheesy Mormon-cinema. It stands alone as an excellent drama that just happens to be about Mormons.
The film opened on limited screens across the “Jello Belt,” in October, and grossed nearly $500,000 in two weeks on only 23 screens. Not too shabby for an independent film. During its opening period it averaged $11,000 per screen – the highest per-screen average for a limited release that weekend.
“The Saratov Approach” set another new record when it reached the million dollar mark in November faster than any other LDS-themed film has ever done. In fact, only a handful of Mormon-focused movies have made a million dollars at the box office: “God’s Army,” “The Other Side of Heaven,” “The Singles Ward” and “The Work and the Glory.”
Another impressive milestone was reach just last week when the film began nationwide roll-out, and can now be seen in 21 states and in parts of Canada. And will be seen on hundreds of screens by January 31st. (See below for a list of cities and dates.) In fact, the nation’s largest theater chains including Regal, AMC and Cinemark are requesting the film have a wider footprint based on its early success.
The Antithesis of the “Book of Mormon the Musical”
The movie stars Maclain Nelson and Corbin Allred who play Elders Propst and Tuttle respectively, who served in the city of Saratov in the Russia Samara mission. The film shows missionary life, including Propst’s “hump day,” where the elders carry on the unofficial tradition of burning a white shirt.
The familiar missionary life comes to an end as the elders meet with a contact, where they are attacked and beaten. The real-life story escalates, and the elders are suddenly being held hostage for $300,000.
Director Garrett Batty first learned of the story as a film student at BYU in 1998. In his own words, he “was fascinated by the news coverage and how widely the story was carried.” He kept the idea in the back of his mind to make a film about Propst and Tuttle’s story. It wasn’t until the “Book of Mormon the Musical” came out that he was motivated to “share a better story” about Mormon missionaries.
Batty contacted Propst and Tuttle out of the blue via Facebook in 2011. Their initial reaction was very reluctant. Their experiences were very personal to them and not something they cared to broadcast. They didn’t want to be lumped together with the Broadway musical and mocked.
But Batty convinced them to hear him out. They got together for a weekend and he shared his vision. They opened up to him and shared their entire story, including passages from their journals, and much of their feelings during that time. It was the first time the former missionaries had done that together.
The three of them were all on the same page with the same goal in mind- to share an authentic story that shows missionaries in a true and positive light.
How to Make a Movie about Abducted Missionaries
“The Saratov Approach” is Batty’s first theatrical release. He’s no stranger to film-making or to Mormon audiences. For three years he was a producer of several “Mormon Messages,” and he’s directed one straight to DVD movie as well.
Batty wrote and directed the film. He says the script came pretty easy after he interviewed the missionaries. At times the Lord can work in mysterious ways. Not long after he met Propst and Tuttle, he had unexpected heart surgery which led to a lot of downtime while he recovered. Needless to say, no one wants to have heart surgery, but Batty made the most of it, and used his recovery time to write the film.
The next step was to find the funding for the film. It wasn’t easy. People were hesitant to attach themselves to the story of abducted missionaries. It took nearly a year to get the money, and was eventually funded by private backers.
Propst and Tuttle stayed in contact with Batty throughout the entire process, and were continually supportive. However, they did not have any say in the script or give official approval for artistic reasons. It was important to Batty to write the script for the audience, and not for the missionaries. And this was something Propst and Tuttle understood and supported. They trusted Batty and a storyteller. And in Batty’s words, “This was ideal as a screenwriter.”
It was important to everyone that the film stayed “true and faithful” to the missionaries’ authentic story. It wasn’t easy compressing a five day ordeal into a two hour film. Keeping with this goal, the exterior scenes were filmed in Kiev, Ukraine, to make it as real as possible.
Where Are They Today?
Propst and Tuttle were shown a rough-cut of the film in advance.But the first time they saw the finished product was at the premiere in October in Utah, along with their families in a packed theater. “It was a very neat experience,” to share it with them, Batty said.
Today Propst lives in Meridian, Idaho and Tuttle in Gilbert, Arizona. They continue to stay in touch with Batty and speak with him at least once a week. They each support the film attending premieres and special showings around the country as the film continues to roll out.
Batty is currently in development on his next two projects, which he says will be along similar themes and genres.
“In those days there were giants in the earth, and they sought Noah to take away his life.”11 The Hebrew word for “giants” is nephilim, and according to scholars, “a literal translation of nephilim is fallen ones.'”12 Intriguingly, the German Bible translates the word nephilim as “tyrants.” The “giants” were the proud tyrants bought up by Satan to rule the world Noah lived in. Noah was clearly an irritant to their Satanic system.
We know what became of these despots and their followers. “Behold,” the Lord said, “I will destroy all flesh from off the earth.” But before the flood, Noah preached to them for 120 years-an extraordinarily long mission that testifies to the incredible patience and endurance of this godly man. According to Jewish legends, Noah had to work hard on the ark, spending long years learning how to build it and master the various sciences he needed. Noah labored on it for 52 years, working slowly on purpose in the hope that the people would repent.13
They did not, and the flood completely eliminated the counterfeit “city of Enoch” and the kingdom of Satan that dominated the earth. God destroyed what was already destroying itself and would have utterly corrupted his plan for his children. It was necessary to start over. In Noah’s ark, according to 1 Peter, “few, that is eight souls, were saved by water, the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.”14 Thus the ark prefigured baptism as the means of salvation in Christ.
The ark is therefore a symbol of the Savior. Like the ark of Noah, Jesus Christ is our refuge in the storm, safely carrying us through the tempest and calming the anxious waters. The Church News has said, “As we go through the storms of life, our closeness to the Lord will, in a large measure, determine the peace and comfort and renewed strength that we feel.”15
The ark can also be likened to the temple, a celestial refuge in a telestial world. It was in the ark that the human family found salvation, and it is in the temple that our families find the means of exaltation.
It’s important to note that Noah’s first action upon leaving the ark was to build an altar and offer sacrifice “in similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.
“16 Noah received the same commandments given to Adam, and made a covenant to obey. In the rainbow, the Lord provided a token of that covenant: “I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.” Why the rainbow? Anciently, the archer’s bow was a symbol of divine power. Additionally, prophets have likened the glory of the Lord to the rainbow, as in the vision of Ezekiel: “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was . . . the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”17
Unfortunately, many of the descendants of Noah were unfaithful to that covenant, and the Satanic system was revived some generations after the Flood. “Go to,” they said, “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven.”18
The Cainite city devoted to power, murder, and gain (“business as usual”) was thus restored. The tower of Babel was actually a temple devoted to the cult of Satan, symbolizing rebellion against God. In the Babylonian language, the word “Babel” is compounded of bab, which means “gate” and el, which means “god. “19 (“Babel” is the root of the word “Babylon,” which is throughout the scriptures a symbol of the capital of wickedness.) Thus, the people saw the tower of Babel as a gate to the heavens, a counterfeit temple raised in the rebelliousness of Satan. It was this symbol of their pride and wickedness that angered the Lord.
So the Lord confounded the language of the people and “scattered them abroad” to break the centralized power and priesthood of Satan. Such towers were raised throughout the ancient world for centuries thereafter. We see them in the ziggurats of Babylon and the pyramids of Egypt-all attempts by vainglorious men to raise monuments to themselves and their false gods. And we also see the confusion and conflict that results from the arrogance of power, symbolized in the confusion of tongues.
In 2 Nephi 12, we read the account of Lehi’s dream, that great symbolic summary of the Gospel. In journeying towards the tree of life, which represents the salvation of Christ, many of the multitude fall into a “fountain of filthy water . . . the depths thereof are the depths of hell.” Another great multitude “across a great and terrible gulf” occupy a “large and spacious building” symbolizing the “vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.”20
The waters of the Great Flood were like the filthy waters Lehi saw, the “depths of hell” reserved for the wicked. And the Tower of Babel was like the “large and spacious building” Lehi saw, which stands for the monumental structures of this telestial world that represent the vanity and conceit of those who mock God.
What is the significance to us of these two great symbols-Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel? They have great significance for us in the last days.
Jesus Christ prophesied that “as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark. And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”21 We know, therefore, that the last days will be similar to the days of Noah. It will be a time of great wickedness, a world ruled by pride and murder and a love of gain. But we also learn that those who listen to the prophets and follow their counsel will be spared the great destruction that accompanies the coming of the Son of man, as was Noah and his family.
In the symbol of the Tower of Babel we should see the monumental arrogance that accompanies wickedness. Unfortunately, this monument is “filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress [is] exceedingly fine; and they [are] in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those” who are seeking the fruit of the tree of life-the pure love of Christ.22 We know also that this symbol of the pride of the world will fall at His coming, as the book of Revelation tells us: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. . . for her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. . . how much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously. . . . Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire. . . . and the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her.”23
Therefore, we should listen carefully and heed the prophet’s commandment: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”24
These are some of the lessons for us of Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel.
1 Moses 5:42-52.
2 Moses 6:57.
3 Moses 7:34.
4 Moses 7:18-19, 21.
5 Moses 7:69.
6 Gen. 6:9.
7 Gen. 6:8.
8 Moses 8:13.
9 Moses 8:19.
10 Moses 8:21-22.
11 Moses 8:18.
12 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: New International Commentary on the Old Testament, William B.
13 “Noah-Making of the Ark,” Jewish Encyclopedia,
14 1 Peter 3:20-21.
15 “Refuge from the Storm, “Church News, Jan. 26, 1991.
16 Gen. 8:20, Moses 4:7.
17 Ezek. 1:28.
18 Gen. 11:4.
19“Babel, Tower of,” Jewish Encyclopedia,
20 1 Ne. 12:16, 18.
21 Matt. 24:37-39.
22 1 Ne. 8:27.
23 Rev. 18:2-11.
24 Rev. 18:4.