November and December are magical months. The cold weather in many parts of the world is warmed by our celebrations of the birth of Christ. Another birth that I always mark on my calendar is on December 23rd, the birth date of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Two years ago, in order to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth, Maurine and I produced a feature-length DVD on Joseph and the Restoration. You’ve been aware of this on Meridian throughout the year. This film came about as a result of twenty years of giving a special fireside presentation to hundreds of stakes and audiences around the United States.
Witness in Your Home
Let me be frank with you. I want you to have the Witness of the Light DVD in your home and show this to your families. I have spent the majority of my life studying and researching the Prophet Joseph and I love sharing my witness of him. I can guarantee that as you watch this movie you will learn things you’ve not known before, you will see things in sequence and in context, you will be lifted and your testimony will be strengthened. I have given this to scores of thousands of teenagers, even they calm down and listen and watch the whole thing. The two-hour-plus length of the film goes by all too quickly.
Click on Photos to Enlarge
One brother wrote: “After watching it three and a half times, thus far, I noticed that the ‘running time’ is two hours and sixteen minutes! Each time I have experienced the video, it has taken me three or four hours, because I keep stopping and rewinding and savoring and making notes of so many treasures of which I had been unaware before!”
Kieth Merrill, Meridian’s film editor, wrote: “In writing, producing and directing Legacy for the Church, I thought I came to know and understand Joseph Smith, the man, the prophet, his life and times. When I watched Witness of the Light I was dazzled by how much I have never known. What a thrill it was.”
One woman wrote: “I can’t tell you how much I love the new Joseph Smith DVD. My husband and I watched it way into the night where normally we would have just turned it off and finished it later.”
One man at the Palmyra Premiere of Witness of the Light 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.”
[To order the Joseph Smith DVD, click here]
Some of Kieth Merrill’s Comments
When we produced Witness of the Light we sent a copy to Kieth Merrill to review. He shared his feelings with us about the experience:
“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.”
Kieth then continued with other comments in a review he did of the film:
“Unlike other documentary examinations of Joseph Smith, Scot makes this one very personal. The enthralling DVD is a compilation from the thousands of photographs Scot has taken over more than three decades. You have seen Scot’s photo essays on Meridian so you know already that he has a marvelous eye. The images selected for Witness of the Light capture the places and textures both intimate and broad. But more than that, the flow of pictures capture feelings and a “sense of the events” difficult to describe and wholly remarkable considering they are still photographs.”
“Let me assure you: Witness of the Light is not static. It moves and it is moving. It begins with an up close and personal conversation with Scot and Maurine. Scot appears on select locations throughout the DVD. It is like being there with him. Much of the music is familiar (from Merrill Jenson) and I found myself augmenting the experience from my own treasure trove of testimony.
“But it is not the images or music alone that make Witness of the Light a must-see for everyone wishing to understand more and know the prophet better. It is Scot himself who narrates the DVD with a casual intimacy that puts him on the couch beside you. I can almost promise you that you will hear things and feel things about Joseph Smith that you’ve not known or felt before. He told me that his goal is for everyone, no exceptions, to come away from this film and experience having learned at least five new things about Joseph. I have no doubt his goal will be achieved.”
[To order the Joseph Smith DVD, click here]
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 Moronito 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.
[To order the Joseph Smith DVD, click here]
To aid you and your families we’ve authored a section in the title page of the DVD called “FHE Stories.” We actually tagged 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 these stories alone it would be worth the cost of the DVD. And by the way, to keep the cost in the same historical context, we have priced the DVD at eighteen dollars and thirty cents (1830).
To Order the Joseph Smith DVD
To order the Witness of the Light DVD, simply go to www.ldsmag.com/joseph and click Order DVD or Order Now. You will also want to view the movie trailer to get a feeling for the show.
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.