BYU Associate professor Kevin Kelly started a documentary project in 2017 that celebrates the 100th anniversary of President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead, found in the Doctrine & Covenants, section 138. That project now makes it’s way to BYUtv at 9 a.m on April 7.
The documentary “I Saw the Hosts of the Dead,” focuses on the vision President Smith received when World War I was coming to a close in October 1918, right before the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“A flu pandemic was taking hold worldwide, as well. So, millions of people all over the world were affected by the loss of loved ones because of the war and the pandemic,” Kelly said. “Out of all this death, pain and suffering came this marvelous vision filled with light and hope that testifies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and clarifies the truths of immortality and eternal life.”
Kelly was inspired to work on the project after reading an Ensign article written by BYU religion professor George E. Tate by the same title. He said that led him to Tate’s full research in an article in BYU Studies.
“I was blessed to meet and work with George Tate, who co-authored the film with me, and lead me to many remarkable scholars on campus,” Kelly said. “President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, is a great-grandson of President Smith, and he granted us an interview and stayed very involved in the project.”
Kelly said one of the great blessings while working on the project was the contributions of the advertising and film students.
“I couldn’t have made the film without their devotion and dedication to the project,” Kelly said. “There was a core team of three students, Barrett Burgin, Matthew Taggart and Erik Naumann. As the production grew I added more to the production team, Amy Wilson, KC Sosa, Chaz Gonzales and Peter Molnar.”
Kelly said that he counted at least 80 students in the credits who were background players, but there were a few big scenes that didn’t make it into the film. He believes close to 100 students were involved.
Film & Media Studies student Matthew Taggart said his involvement included assisting with the interviews and finding information about the effects World War I had on the church which included looking through hours of archived war footage. Taggart said he wasn’t very well-versed on World War I prior to this project, and had no idea how brutal it was. He said there were times he had to step away from the editing process.
“I also was able to shoot a short sequence in Hawaii that re-created a vision Joseph F. Smith had while serving a mission there in the 1850s,” Taggart said. “We then matched that footage with some other parts of the dream up here in Utah. It turns out pretty seamless in the final film.”
Taggart said working on the project was a great experience, and he noted that Kelly is a professor who cares about his students.
“I felt my own testimony increase in regards to the Savior, the redemption of the dead and the idea that modern prophets are real,” Taggart said. “It isn’t often you get the chance to work on something that connects with you on so many levels, so I am thrilled I got the chance.”
The documentary will air prior to Music & the Spoken Word and the Sunday morning session of April’s General Conference.