The Dove Foundation, a non-profit organization established to encourage and promote wholesome family entertainment, has awarded its Seal of Approval to "The Other Side of Heaven." The Dove Family Approved Seal is awarded to movies, and other entertainment products that portray and encourage positive family values.
The Dove Foundation specifies that it seeks to promote entertainment based on Judeo-Christian ethics.
The approval award from the Dove Foundation came as a small surprise to the film's distributor, Excel Entertainment Group, which was notified of the Dove Foundation's decision over the weekend. "We are glad for the Dove Foundations decision. To be honest, we weren't expecting it," says Mary Jane Jones, media relations director for Excel.
Excel had attempted to buy advertising and PR services from several Christian media organizations before the film was released in theaters in April, but was repeatedly turned down. While many of the organizations praised the movie, they were concerned about being associated with a film about a Mormon missionary.
"We are thrilled that the Dove Foundation has recognized the value of this story as one that people of all faiths can appreciate and enjoy," says Jones. "While 'The Other Side of Heaven' does tell the story of one missionary of a particular faith, the experiences he has and the lessons he learns are accessible to all people. This movie is no more a Mormon film than 'The Mission' was a Catholic film."
This is not the first such honor awarded the film. In April, producer John Garbett accepted the Award of Excellence on behalf of the movie from the Film Advisory Board. Other films honored this year by that organization included "Shrek," "E.T." and "Ice Age." The Film Advisory Board is another non-profit organization that promotes family-friendly entertainment. It is not affiliated with any religious groups.
"The Other Side of Heaven" has grossed over $4.2 million in theaters. It tells the true story of a young man sent as a missionary to the Kingdom of Tonga in the 1950s.
[rating: 3 out of 4 doves]
When Elder John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) graduates from college, his church (the Mormons - LDS) sends him on a three-year missionary trip to the Pacific island of Tonga. Ignorant of their language, customs, and pretty much any other useful information about these isolated people, Groberg is forced to rely on his faith to get through his journey. At first, with a Christian church already on the island, the people ignore him. However, circumstances involving miraculous healings get the attention of some of the islanders. Starting with a few devoted listeners, Groberg soon gains a following on the island and begins to win some over to his message.
Based on a true story, the film presents an overtly religious story, but avoids seeming too preachy with decent acting and writing. While the film suffers a bit from episodic and seemingly disconnected scenes, the beautiful island setting will entertain most audiences who discover this limited release. Some disturbing images appear when a man's feet are badly cut, but the scene avoids exploitive gore. Although the reviewer follows more traditional Christian orthodoxy, the positive messages in THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN can be recommended.
[Ratings on a scale of -4 to +4]
Entertainment: +1 1/2
When Elder John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) graduates from college, his church (the Mormons - LDS) sends him on a three-year missionary trip to the Pacific island of Tonga. Ignorant of their language, customs, and pretty much any other useful information about these isolated people, Groberg is forced to rely on his faith to get through his journey. At first, with a Christian church already on the island, the people ignore him. However, circumstances involving miraculous healings get the attention of some of the islanders. Starting with a few devoted listeners, Groberg soon gains a following on the island and begins to win some over to his message. Based on a true story, the film presents an overtly religious story, but avoids seeming too preachy with decent acting and writing. While the film suffers a bit from episodic and seemingly disconnected scenes, the beautiful island setting will entertain most audiences who discover this limited release. Some disturbing images appea! r when a man's feet are badly cut, but the scene avoids exploitive gore. Although Preview follows more traditional Christian orthodoxy [i.e., the reviewer is a Protestant, and not a Latter-day Saint], the positive messages in THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN can be recommended.
Franktown resident Mitch Davis decided 11 years ago that his executive job at a Hollywood studio did not fulfill the creative urge that led him into filmmaking.
"I was just a small part of the process. I was a junior-level executive, and there really wasn't any part of a movie that you could point to and say, "That is my part,' " Davis said.
That is not a concern anymore because the credits of "The Other Side Heaven," which opened nationwide Friday, carry the words "A Mitch Davis Film." His name shows up again as the film's screenwriter and again as its director and again as its executive producer.
Davis was a vice president in the development department at Columbia Studios when he started writing screenplays in his off hours.
In 1991 he sold a script that became the 1993 movie, "Windrunner," starring Margot Kidder and Russell Means. (It still airs regularly on the Disney Channel and HBO, he said.)
"I was so excited about that particular sale that on the strength of it I picked up and moved to Colorado to kind of go into writer's retreat and become a full-time writer," Davis said. "That and I have a family. I have five kids, and I very much want to raise them in kind of a country environment."
Davis spent a couple years or so as a full-time writer before getting a day job, but he continued to write on his own time. Then four years ago, he again left the work-a-day world at the urging of his wife, Michelle.
"I remember the conversation," he said. "We were sitting around the breakfast table. I was turning 40, and she just basically said, "Honey, if you don't go for it now, you never will. You should just go for it.' "
He had no great plans when again he picked up his pen. He completed two scripts, that are still on a shelf. The third one was "The Other Side of Heaven."
Davis adapted the screenplay from "In the Eye of the Storm," a memoir by John Groberg about the three years he spent in the 1950s as a young Mormon missionary in Tonga.
Today, Groberg is a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Two of Davis' friends had been after him to read the book as a possible film project. He kept putting them off, he said, because he wanted to make a Hollywood movie with romance and adventure.
"I thought, "This is a church book. There is no way you can find a Hollywood movie inside a church book,' " said Davis, who performed his own Mormon mission in Argentina.
Finally, one friend put the book into Davis' hands and told him to shut up and read the book.
"About 20-25 pages into it, I knew this was the movie I was going to make," he said. "The essence of Polynesia got me. That is when I really got interested, when I started reading about these really fascinating people and their kind of fierce face and their purity."
the With film rights in hand, Davis showed the script to two friends in the movie business, John Garbett and Gerald R. Molen, an Academy Award-winning producer whose list of credits includes "Schindler's List," and "Jurassic Park."
Garbett, a production executive on "Shrek," is the friend who told Davis to shut up and read the book.
"They both really dug the script and immediately agreed to make the movie with me, " Davis said. "With them and me, I had a package that I could sort of shop and I went out and raised the money to make movie. It took me a year and half to raise it."
None of the money came from the church, he said.
To keep costs down without sacrificing quality, Davis made shooting the film an international project, using a New Zealand crew, an Australian director of photography and a composer from Los Angeles. The score was recorded in Prague, the Czech Republic, the orchestrater was from London and the special effects were done in Canada.
He filmed the tropical scenes in the Cook Islands, while Auckland, New Zealand, served as a stand-in for the parts of the story that happen in the United States.
Christopher Gorham, who appeared in "A Life Less Ordinary," plays John Groberg. Anne Hathaway, star of "Princess Diaries," plays Jean Sabin, the girlfriend Groberg left behind. Joe Polau plays Feki, Groberg's Polynesian missionary partner.
Davis said the Polynesians he met while making the film proved to be as special as the ones who so fascinated him in Groberg's book.
"Every one of them took me aside at one point or another and thanked me for making a movie about their culture, " Davis said
The independent film was picked up for distribution by Utah-based Excel Entertainment.
It enjoyed a limited run late last year in Utah, Idaho and Arizona, where it did well enough that Excel decided to take it national.
Sometimes cloyingly sweet and riddled with cliches, but always with a good-hearted approach, "The Other Side of Heaven" may be the most sincere movie of the year.
It certainly is refreshing in its subject matter. First, the movie, about a missionary, was directed by Mitch Davis, a graduate of Brigham Young University, which was founded by, and is supported, and guided, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Second, it's based on the true story of Elder John Groberg, whose adventures during his assignment in the Kingdom of Tonga changed his life forever.
Christopher Gorham ("A Life Less Ordinary") stars as Groberg, who grows up in a huge family in Idaho. Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") stars as Jean Sabin, who also attends BYU. Although another guy has his eye on Jean, it's obvious that she and John have a special relationship. And John leaves for his journey promising to write to Jean -- the narrative of their real letters helps the audience understand the changes that John undergoes on his spiritual journey.
John's journey to the South Seas paradise is more difficult than he had anticipated, and he's already weary by the time he arrives. He is befriended by Tongan Feki (Joe Folau), but is distrusted by many of the local people until he can prove to them that he can be their friend.
One of the movie's major downfalls is its inconsistency. For example, early on, much is made of the fact that John can't speak the Tongan language, and that the Tongans can't speak English. Soon after John begins to speak in their language, everyone suddenly bursts into English (I assume this was a measure to indicate to the audience that successful communication has begun).
The movie certainly has its share of humor, and of action, particularly when John must grapple with the elements of his environment such as the threat of rats and terrible storms.
And it's certainly a beautiful film, with the island of Rarotonga standing in for Tonga. The actors are interesting -- although Hathaway doesn't have much to do -- although I had a feeling that the characters as depicted in Groberg's book, "In the Eye of the Storm," would be even more fascinating.
It isn't a perfect movie, but its sincerity brings it to above-average in quality. And hey -- you actually can take your whole family to this one.
If you go
What: "The Other Side of Heaven"
Rating: Two and 1/2 stars
Rated: PG for scenes of death and injury.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Stars: Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway and Joe Folau.
Director and screenwriter: Mitch Davis.
Linda Cook reviews movies for GO! and KWQC-TV6, where she can be seen on "Quad-Cities Today" Mondays and "Paula Sands Live" Tuesdays. She can be contacted at (563) 383-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org
BEST CINEMATIC TREND FOR SAINTS
Mormon Multiplex Movies
Temple Square isn't the only place to catch movies with that special Mormon flavor any more. Following the success of Richard Dutcher's God's Army and Brigham City, LDS filmmakers went wild in late 2001 and early 2002 with independently-distributed efforts. Suddenly, you couldn't swing a jumbo popcorn without hitting a "Mormon movie" -- The Other Side of Heaven, The Singles Ward, Out of Step. If you can't beat secular pop culture, join it on your own terms.
Three movies -- a special large-format production, and two full-length feature films -- with strong Latter-day Saint themes are currently showing in Hawai'i, including:
The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd: The Hawai'i-Honolulu Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made special arrangements to have The Testaments shown permanently at the Polynesian Cultural Center's IMAX Theater for free Monday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, and also Saturday morning at 10:30 am.
Approximately 600 invited guests and VIPs attended the Lä'ie premier of The Testaments, which was largely filmed on Kaua'i, on March 23rd at the PCC. Since then, hundreds of others have taken advantage of the free showings, which do not include regular PCC activities.
LDS Hawai'i Mission President Mark H. Willes made special arrangements for The Testaments, which was created about two years ago by Academy Award-winning director Kieth Merrill, to be shown in Lä'ie. Otherwise, the film is only shown at special theaters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at the Washington, DC Temple Visitors Center.
The film, whose title refers to stories of Christ drawn from both The Bible and the Book of Mormon tradition, depicts events in the life of the Savior in both the Old and New Worlds during His lifetime and immediately following His resurrection.
Hawai'i actor Al Harrington, who has strong family ties in Ko'olauloa and still owns property in Lä'ie, plays a key role in the film.
For more information, or free tickets, call 293-3117.
The Other Side of Heaven (rated PG), which opened this week on over 300 screens across the U.S., depicts the LDS missionary experiences about 50 years ago of Elder John H. Groberg on the tiny, isolated Tongan island of Niuatoputapu.
Elder Groberg, who is now a member of the Church's First Quorum of the Seventy, was then a young man from Idaho who took almost three months to get to Niua, where he overcame many challenges and learned to love the Tongan people.
The film, produced by Gerald R. Molen and John Garbett -- who are also the Academy Award-winning producers of Schindler's List and Jurassic Park -- was actually shot in the Cook Islands using a variety of Polynesian actors mainly from New Zealand. It easily captures the spirit and beauty of that time and place in Polynesia.
Elder Groberg's main companion on Niua island was Feki Pö'uha, whose son Joe Pö'uha now lives in Hau'ula and is LDS Bishop of the Hau'ula 4th Ward.
The younger Pö'uha, who saw a preview of the film in Honolulu on April 2nd, said he "thoroughly enjoyed it. We were pleased and honored that somebody recognized my dad. Not only him as a missionary, but also the Tongan people as missionaries."
Pö'uha explained that his father, who died in 1972, came to Lä'ie as an LDS labor missionary several years after his sojourn with Elder Groberg. "My dad's whole life was missionary work. After he left Kolipoki [Tongan for Groberg], he was called to Niuë to help build chapels and proselyte. The Tongan actor who portrayed him, Joe Folau from New Zealand, who's not LDS, did an exceptional job."
Pö'uha, who served his own LDS mission in Hawai'i from 1978-80 and now oversees the Primary School Adjustment Program at Lä'ie Elementary, encouraged people to go to The Other Side of Heaven "with an open mind, not only to see how my dad was portrayed: Go there to be inspired.
"I didn't look at is as a Mormon movie, but as life in general. In this case, it just happened to be about a pair of Mormon missionaries," Pö'uha said. "It's about human kindness. It's about Christ-like love.
"I appreciate, and am forever grateful to the people who immortalized my dad. I'm also glad that he was identified with the labor missionaries. My children and I know we are a missionary family."
After the preview, Pö'uha pointed out he was also depicted in the movie -- in a still picture at the end. "Of course, I was in diapers, or ti leaves, or whatever at the time, and I was about a year old."
Former Lä'ie resident Pauline Tautü was also at the preview as a PR representative for Excel Entertainment Group of Salt Lake City, which is distributing The Other Side of Heaven.
"This $7 million independent film was fraught with miracles in production," Tautü said. "For instance, there was no rain money, and the crew just had to keep going; but everything worked out well. It's a mainstream feature that Hollywood is definitely watching."
The Singles Ward is a PG-rated comedy about LDS courtship and romance among 20-something Mormons that is currently playing at Wallace's La'ie Theatre. It drew lots of laughs from the audience.
Unlike The Other Side of Heaven, which dramatically features a number of universal themes, however, The Singles Ward is definitely an "insider" movie with lots of allusions non-LDS viewers will probably miss, although it's hard not to miss numerous cameo appearances by LDS personalities such as Steve Young, Danny Ainge, and Shawn Bradley.
The movie also features some very up-tempo arrangements of popular LDS hymns.
[Review article consists of thematically linked reviews of "The Othe Side of Heaven" and "Stolen Summer" (directed by Pete Jones for Project Greenlight). At the author's request, the text of article is not archived here.]
"Mormon film industry" would've been oxymoronic a few years ago, but LDS filmmakers are catching up with evangelical Protestants, and pronto; this slick, fact-based, missionary-themed drama has racked up almost $4.5 million in a gradual national rollout. Non-Mormons might be forgiven for experiencing early whiplash: The opening scene in The Other Side of Heaven has hero John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) stealing somebody's gal ("The Princess Diaries"' Anne Hathaway) at a wild Brigham Young U. dance party in 1953 (talk about shattering stereotypes -- Mormons were hep to "Rip It Up" three years before it was released!). Minutes later, he could hardly be happier when a telegram says he'll be leaving his newfound love for a few years of church-mandated mission work on a remote Tongan island. Some touching cross-cultural scenes and cool typhoons ensue. But if Groberg ever ran into much resistance from the natives or experienced any humanizing moments of doubt, they didn't ! make their way from his memoir into the movie; the resulting absence of dramatic tension ensures the film will make fewer converts than he did. C
EW Grade: C
EW Readers Grade: A-
The phrase "liberty and justice for all" captures the spirit of America, said Elder John H. Groberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Groberg, the main speaker at the annual Freedom Festival Patriotic Service on Sunday, encouraged the approximately 15,000 audience members gathered at the Brigham Young University Marriott Center to respect and value all Americans, regardless of color or culture.
"I love America," he said. "I love what America stands for: 'One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' "
Elder Groberg called the Constitution a "gem of solid principles and wise compromises," specifically praising its diverse founders who acknowledged a creator above mortal man.
During his address, Elder Groberg showed clips of speeches made by past American leaders including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as a clip from a speech by President Bush.
"How grateful we should be to have a God-fearing man in the White House today," Elder Groberg said.
Elder Groberg called on Americans to use prayer to overcome prejudices.
"America is a country, but also an ideal," he said. "Remove the ideal of liberty and justice for all, and do you have America? I think not. . . . The destiny of America and this ideal are entrusted to us you and me."
Elder Groberg used his experiences as a young missionary in Tonga in the early 1950s to explain his deep love for people of other cultures.
He showed numerous clips from the recent movie based on his missionary experiences, "The Other Side of Heaven."
"Future dangers will not come from people's appearance, but the set of their hearts," he said.
Elder Groberg said that while other attempts to injure America may occur in the future, Americans will prevail with prayer and righteous living.
The service marked the culmination of weeks of activities hosted by America's Freedom Festival at Provo.
A 250-voice Tongan choir sang several songs in Tongan, while the Utah Valley Symphony and 70-voice Mountain Chorale, accompanied by concert pianist David Glen Hatch, performed patriotic musical selections.
Also at the service, Orem high school graduate Christy Marie Vineyard delivered her oration as winner of the Freedom Festival's speech contest.
She described the depth of her patriotism for America, though she has not yet experienced all it has to offer.
The audience erupted into applause and many standing ovations as event organizers honored Freedom Award winners Kurt and Gerda Klein, the 213th Field Artillery Battalion, Robert Wren, Peter Dugulescu and John Pyndus.