By Chelsey Saatkamp
Movies about the life of Joseph Smith are a dime a dozen in the LDS film industry, but chances are moviegoers haven’t seen one quite as in-depth and emotional as this.
“Joseph Smith Volume 1: Plates of Gold,” directed by BYU grad Christian Vuissa, will premiere in Utah theaters this Friday, and those involved say it tells the story of Joseph Smith in a way that has never been told before.
The film, the first part in a planned trilogy, focuses on a young Joseph and Emma Smith, played by R. Dustin Harding and Lindsay Farr, respectively. It tells the story of their courtship and the trials Smith faced while trying to obtain and translate the Book of Mormon. What sets this movie apart from the others, Vuissa said, is that it emphasizes the Smith’s younger years and the internal struggles Joseph had to go through during the early days of the Church.
“I wanted to approach this film from a historical perspective and make it as true as it is,” said Vuissa, who spent two years researching and reading about the life of Joseph Smith. “I didn’t want anyone to say that it didn’t happen that way.”
One way Vuissa tried to show the truth was by focusing on the youth and innocence of the Smith couple.
“I always found it intriguing, how young Joseph and Emma were,” Vuissa said. “They were as old as our missionaries … A lot of people think of Joseph as this idol and find it hard to connect to him. I wanted to show him as a human being with real internal struggles and doubts. He took his relationship with God so seriously, and I wanted to portray that.”
Harding, a statistics major at BYU, said playing the young Prophet was an amazing, spiritual experience, and something that took a while to get used to.
“We wanted to produce a film that showed Joseph Smith as a person, someone relatable,” Harding said. “This film goes deeper into the things he went through. It was definitely testimony-building; I learned so much about Joseph’s life that I had never known before.”
Vuissa, who was born in Austria and converted to the LDS Church at 22, developed a passion for religion when he began studying the Bible as an adult.
“My mother joined the Church when I was seven,” Vuissa said. “My father did not want me to get baptized, but my mother’s faith had a huge impact on me. I decided to study for myself, and after I was baptized I felt very strongly that I should go on a mission and then come to BYU.”
In his films, Vuissa said he tries to capture the culture of the religion in his stories.
“I like to go to the roots, to show the real emotions behind the events that happened,” Vuissa said.
Mauro Properzi, a religion professor at BYU, was Vuissa’s former college roommate. He said he can attest to the passion and talent of the filmmaker, also known for his previous films “The Errand of Angels” and “One Good Man.”
“You could sense that he was a deep thinker, and liked dealing with issues that were inspiring, faith-building and honest,” Properzi said. “That really comes across in his films.”
The movie has already premiered on the East Coast and Europe to favorable reviews.
“The story of the Book of Mormon has influenced not only Mormon culture, but American culture as well,” Vuissa said. “It’s in the top 10 best-selling books of all time and it doesn’t receive all the attention it deserves. We want people to come away with an appreciation for Joseph Smith and connect with him on a human level.”