Hollywood is focusing its bright lights on a Utah man. It's the story of Elder John H. Groberg's mission to Tonga for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Almost a lifetime ago, John Groberg was a carefree teen, a boy about to become a man.
"It's very emotional. I've seen the movie several times and almost every time I find myself weeping," said Elder Groberg.
The film is based on Groberg's missionary accounts in the book "In the Eye of the Storm". It is now a Hollywood movie about faith and the transformation Groberg experienced because of the faithful in Tonga.
The film's star and director say, while the movie portrays a Mormon missionary, the message applies to people of all faiths.
"It's universal playing someone. They have faith, that's the key word," said Christopher Gorham, film star.
"No I don't think it's a Mormon movie. If you say that you've got to ask if The Mission is a Catholic movie. If Shindlers List is a Jewish movie," said Mitch Davis, screen writer, Director, Executive producer.
Elder Groberg says, he hopes people leave this movie seeing the storm of life comes with blessings.
Elder Groberg is now in the quorum of the seventy. He didn't accept any money for his story saying he gave it freely because, "that's what life is about".
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 13, 2001
CONTACT: Mary Jane Jones
Opening Night of The Other Side of Heaven Sold Out in Advance -- Additional Screenings Added;
Expect Big Crowds and Full Theaters for Film's Opening Weekend
Salt Lake City, UT -- After a successful Salt Lake City premiere on Wednesday night at Jordan Commons, distributors expect that the new film The Other Side of Heaven will perform well at the box office.
All 700 seats for the film's first public showing at midnight on Thursday at the SCERA theater in Orem had been sold. SCERA officials have decided to open their second theater for the midnight showing. That theater seats 500, and they expect that it too will fill up.
"We are thrilled to be a part of this film's opening," says SCERA president Norm Nielsen. "It's a great honor for the SCERA to have this exclusive engagement." The film will play exclusively at the SCERA in Utah County and at Jordan Commons in Salt Lake County beginning Dec 14. On Dec 21, the movie will open in theaters across Utah.
The midnight screening at the SCERA, as well as the Saturday evening screening will feature appearances from the stars of the film. They will also make appearances at Jordan Commons on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
It is expected that lines will be long as people try to get tickets for the second theater. Due to demand, SCERA officials have added another midnight screening for Friday, December 14.
"We have the largest screen in Utah," said Nielsen, referring to the SCERA's 700-seat theater. "We'll be able to accommodate everyone who wants to see this movie. The SCERA has a tradition of supporting independent filmmakers who make movies that the whole family can enjoy, and The Other Side of Heaven is one of the best movies we have ever been involved with."
If the current, unprecedented wave of LDS filmmaking peters out prematurely or dies out altogether Utah audiences may have no one but themselves to blame.
At least that's what the dean of LDS filmmakers, Kieth Merrill, believes. Merrill, who paved the way for other Mormon moviemakers with films like "Take Down," "Harry's War" and the Oscar-winning 1973 documentary "The Great American Cowboy," said the time is now for Utah audiences to support this new cinema genre.
"Look, if you're one of those people who keeps complaining that there's nothing really great out there to see, if you don't support these films, you lose forever that right to criticize (the Hollywood movie industry)," Merrill said during a telephone interview from his office in northern California.
To be more specific, Merrill is touting "The Other Side of Heaven," an LDS-themed film based on the experiences of Elder John H. Groberg of the church's Quorum of the Seventy, who as a teenager served a church mission to the kingdom of Tonga in the 1950s.
Merrill said the drama is everything Utahns have been looking for in a movie. "It's a wonderful film," he said, "one that has a terrific message vital to today's society. I believe in many ways the film is the culmination of everything Mormon cinema has been working towards."
Of course, you can forgive Merrill if he is at least a little biased in favor of the film. He was one of two movie industry "insiders" who wrote letters of recommendation for the movie's writer/director, Mitch Davis, when the fledgling filmmaker was trying to get into USC Film School.
Coincidentally, Merrill's raves about "The Other Side of Heaven" as an LDS film come at a time when the moviemakers are trying to market it to a much broader audience.
According to producer John Garbett, "The Other Side of Heaven" was made not simply because it's a great Mormon story, but also because "it's one that you don't have to be LDS to appreciate." In fact, Garbett said that aside from the filmmakers, few if any members of the cast or crew were LDS.
For his part, Merrill said he believes the film really could strike a chord with audiences outside of Utah. But first, Utahns must seize the opportunity to send a message to Hollywood. "If this film can open with big numbers, Hollywood will stand up and notice. For better or worse, this industry is all about the bottom line."
Merrill also pointed out that Utah is not as insignificant to the movie industry as some might think. For example, it's been one of the primary markets for more typically family-friendly movie fare for years. And this has been a strong year for such films, with the G- and PG-rated movies "Shrek," "The Princess Diaries," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Monsters, Inc." all making considerably more than $100 million each at the U.S. box office.
"There were several theaters in Utah making as much or more with these films as some large theaters in the so-called primary markets," Merrill said. "You'd better believe that Hollywood has noticed that."
Still, "The Other Side of Heaven" has some stiff competition. The movie is opening in theaters at a time when the megaplexes are dominated by such blockbusters as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Ocean's Eleven," "Monsters, Inc." and the first installment in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring."
"Sure, it's a gamble," Merrill acknowledged. "But really, when is there a better time to open such a movie? There are a lot of people looking for something different, something uplifting. And this could be exactly what they're looking for."
It has already been established that LDS audiences will go see films made about LDS-specific subjects and produced by Mormon moviemakers (i.e. "God's Army").
So the next challenge is to get non-LDS audiences to attend those same movies. That might seem to be an even greater challenge when the film in question is as strongly LDS-themed as "The Other Side of Heaven," a drama based on the true-life harrowing adventures of LDS General Authority John H. Groberg when he was a teenager serving a mission to the Kingdom of Tonga. (The script is adapted from Groberg's memoirs, "In the Eye of the Storm," which was the movie's original title.)
But according to one of the film's producers, John Garbett, the independently produced and distributed drama "wasn't made for an LDS audience it was made for the world."
Mitch Davis, who wrote and directed the film, agrees, saying that it explores the themes of brotherhood, compassion and spiritual devotion, all of which are universal.
"I didn't want this film to get stuck into a niche if it didn't have to be," Davis told the Deseret News. "Fortunately, I think it's a story that could appeal to a much broader audience."
"The Other Side of Heaven" opens in a handful of local theaters today, then expands to other theaters in the Intermountain West over the next few weeks.
Though Davis is now touting the story and material, he said he actually had to be talked into making the film. A former Disney creative executive, he was looking to make his first feature film when several friends suggested that he read Groberg's book.
"When I first heard about the book, I was very hesitant," Davis said. "They practically had to force it into my hands. But when I finally read it, I fell in love with this story and knew I had to do it justice."
Enter Elder Groberg, who had a few reservations of his own. "When they first approached me about it, I knew this couldn't and shouldn't have church backing or sponsorship that it had to be made completely independently of the church," Groberg recalled. "And my other condition was that the film had be true to the book."
No problem, according to Davis. "I don't think you could come up with a more incredible story," Davis said, "with more incredibly appealing characters, if you tried. And frankly, I wasn't even about to try."
Unfortunately, Groberg's provisions pretty much guaranteed that the film had to be made independently of a major studio and without major-studio backing. "It would have been great to be working for one of the studios," Davis said. "But they probably would have thought the story and the characters were too squeaky clean.
"They probably would have wanted to dirty the characters up such as making Elder Groberg question his faith in his religion, or have him be tempted, or stray while he was on the island. I suppose it would have been easy for me to make such compromises, but I had such respect for the story, for Elder Groberg, that I couldn't let that happen."
Davis had already befriended two producers who believed in the project Garbett, who had a hand in developing the animated smash "Shrek," and Gerald Molen, a producer on the first two "Jurassic Park" films and "Schindler's List." "They're the reason this film got made," Davis said. "Those guys worked as hard as they could squeezing blood from a turnip to get everything we needed to do this right."
Consequently, Davis found himself working with an $8 million budget, which may be paltry by Hollywood standards (the typical big-studio film costs at least $65 million), but which is a fortune by independent-film standards. "I think it looks at least as good as a lot of films that cost many more times what this one did," Davis said.
Subbing for Tonga in the film are parts of New Zealand and the Cook Islands. "We got lucky," Davis said. "We couldn't have picked a more beautiful place to shoot. It was absolutely incredible."
In fact, with ideal shooting conditions, Davis even got Groberg to come down for some of the shoot. "
Getting back to the subject of lucky breaks, Davis may have also lucked out when one of the members of his cast achieved stardom. Anne Hathaway, who co-stars as Groberg's true love, Jean Sabin, also starred in this summer's sleeper hit "The Princess Diaries." "We had a very high opinion of Anne, but we had no idea she was going to become a star," Davis said. Not only was "The Princess Diaries" good for Hathaway's career, it was also good for Davis' film giving it a "name" star. "That also meant we had to make sure to release our film after the studio one," he said, "but not too soon after it, or we'd be competing with one another."
Director: Mitch Davis
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Christopher Gorham, Joe Foulau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees, Whetu Fala
(PG, 113 min.)
The Kingdom of Tonga certainly looks like paradise. Sandy, sunny beaches, gorgeous natives prowling around in not all that much, zero modernities to distract from the natural beauty, and some homegrown moonshine to while away the hours with.
But because this isn't Return to Blue Lagoon, but rather the film adaptation of Elder John Groberg's memoir of his missionary days in Tonga in the Fifties, you can bet that moonshine won't be around for long.
This earnest family drama begins at a sock hop at Brigham Young University, where we're introduced to a 19-year-old John (Gorham) and his sweetheart, Jean (Hathaway).
Their courtship is cut short when the young Mormon gets his shipping orders -- a three-year stint serving the people of Tonga with their God papers -- and it's in Tonga that the bulk of the film takes place.
With the aid of a local convert, Feki (an affable Foulau), John attempts, often unsuccessfully, to bring God to the Tongan people while surviving a number of natural disasters and the heartache of leaving behind his best gal.
Although nonbelievers might cringe at the film's religious themes, first-time director Davis takes an even-handed approach to the film's spiritual message, avoiding proselytizing or any of the Armageddon overtures contemporary Christian films have taken such a shine to as of late.
In fact, I can't recall a single overt mention of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The preaching here is of a more generic nature, and more palatable, too -- at least, to a general audience (John urges the locals not to drink, not to have premarital sex, and the like).
His travails on the island are told in an episodic fashion, skipping easily from hurricane to death to comic language-barrier sketches to some beachside baptism, and while the material is certainly interesting, Davis doesn't do full justice to the gravity of these events. There's little dramatic tension in the piece, never any real sense of danger even in the face of unimaginable calamity.
This soft-coating of the material is probably a concession to the target audience -- families who don't want the bejeezus scared out of the young kiddies. (Having the Jesus inspired into them might be closer to the filmmakers' intention.)
Still, you can't really fault a filmmaker for trying to provide good-natured, clean-cut, and gratifying family entertainment that doesn't require a wisecracking canine or flatulence funny business.
(There is a running burp gag, but even that feels like something out of Cricket.) The film also does no disservice to the gorgeous landscape (shot in the Cook Islands and nearby New Zealand), and the film has a professional polish to it that belies its relatively small budget.
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
Tinseltown North 1:35, 4:20, 7:15, 10:05
Tinseltown South 10:25, 1:20, 4:10, 7:35, 10:10
Westgate 11 12:10, 2:40, 5:10, 7:40, 10:25
"The Other Side of Heaven" is an account of Mormon general authority John H. Groberg's missionary experiences in Tonga in the 1950s, based on his book, "In the Eye of the Storm. " It is mildly uplifting and reasonably enjoyable, but lacks the emotional or spiritual power that, say, one of Elder Groberg's general conference talks might have.
Adapted and directed by Mitch Davis, "Heaven" faithfully tells the stories from Groberg's mission as if faithfully telling the stories from Groberg's mission is all it needs to do. It starts with the beginning of his mission, ends with his homecoming, and in between is full of healings, baptisms and South Pacific islander shenanigans -- but no sense of purpose. Groberg (played here by Christopher Gorham) does not appear to change or grow over the course of it. He is friendly and righteous and rather non-descript to begin with, and he's that way at the end, too.
The blame for the lack of dynamics is shared between Davis the writer/director and Gorham the actor. The script is episodic, moving from one event to another with little sense that any of them are having any lasting effect, and no sense of building toward something in particular, plot-wise. There's very little adversity that isn't overcome quickly and easily; the closest thing the movie has to a "villain" is a bureaucratic mission president -- and he immediately apologizes for it.
Even when emotional depth might be called for, Gorham doesn't do it. Sure, he cries a couple times, and Groberg does some amazing act-of-faith kind of stuff. But Gorham's attitude throughout is so blandly go-with-the-flow -- almost cavalier -- that we wind up liking him, but not knowing him.
To his credit, Davis has control of his craft in terms of making things look good. No amateur (despite this being his first feature film), Davis makes good use of beautiful locales, has an able cast of actors, and doesn't let the pace slow down too much. A couple storm sequences are very exciting. This all makes it a decent film, if not a great one.
To be interesting or memorable, movies must be driven by plot or character. Either we like the stuff that's happening, or we like the people it's happening to. The best movies do both. "The Other Side of Heaven" does neither. Nothing happens, and it happens to flat characters. It is not beyond enjoyment, but it is so soft and weak-willed that it's not liable to live in anyone's heart for longer than it takes to watch it. C+
1 hr., 53 min.; PG for some very mild vulgarity, some very mild sexual innuendo, some blood
[Snider's review from the Daily Herald is also the review that appears online on the eFilmCritic website:
The following user comments were posted on the eFilmCritic page as of 22 February 2002:
|RECENT COMMENTS FROM THE EFC USERS:|
|Rodney Crook (sf-dyn57.whitemtns.com)||A very good movie. May have had to serve a mission or had a child on one to love this movie||Awesome|
|Nathan Henderson (22.214.171.124)||A refreshingly great film. A great lesson in what makes people truly happy||Awesome|
|Film Lover (126.96.36.199)||Great movie, there truely does need to be more film like this one!||Awesome|
|Erin (1cust103.tnt1.provo.ut.da.uu.net)||I liked it!||Worth A Look|
|clark (188.8.131.52)||Not as powerful as it has potential to be, but still very enjoyable and uplifting.||Worth A Look|
|Corrinn Aune (spider-wi034.proxy.aol.com)||I thought this movie was really tender.||Awesome|
|Chris Deaver (192.dallas-09rh15rt-tx.dial-access.att.net)||This film was spectacular. Anyone that says otherwise has missed the mark.||Awesome|
|Jordan (184.108.40.206)||Shows triumph of spirit. Wholesome. Very uplifting. Not enough movies like it.||Awesome|
|Stephen Hays Russell (1cust65.tnt1.ogden.ut.da.uu.net)||Thoroughly enjoyed this wholesome movie. Uplifting; spectacular scenery. Want it on DVD!||Worth A Look|
*** [3 out of 5 stars]
I had the chance to see the screening for this film in Denver, CO last weekend.
The film is based on the book "The Eye of the Storm," the memoirs of Elder John Groberg of the Seventy. It recounts Elder Groberg's experiences as a missionary in Tonga in the early 1950s, depicting both the spiritual experiences and wild adventures he had there as a missionary.
The cinematography and special effects are top-notch, the film is very well cast, and is overall quite excellent.
My only complaint was that, unlike God's Army, at times the film tried to downplay some of the religious aspects of the story being told in order to be more "accessible" to a broader audience. In my mind, the depiction of blessings and prayers is what makes these kinds of movies genuine and refreshing.
The film was written and produced by Mitch Davis, a former Disney exec, and member of the Church. The film is due to be released in late September/early October. Additional information is available at http://www.eyeofthestormthemovie.com.
PROVO, UTAH -- "The Other Side of Heaven" is the film adaptation of Elder John H. Groberg's book "Eye of the Storm." Taking place in the 1950's, "The Other Side of Heaven" starts out as a nostalgic period piece and becomes a coming-of-age epic. John Groberg (Christopher Gorham-- "A Life Less Ordinary) leaves his family and girlfriend (Anne Hathaway-- "The Princess Diaries") to serve a mission for the LDS church in the Kingdom of Tonga.
It is the adventure of a lifetime. An Idaho-raised young man answers the call to serve a mission in the south pacific-- a region completely opposite from his home. Plagued by mosquitos, hurricanes and an irritated Baptist minister, Groberg learns not only to live in the Tongan Islands, but to serve and make a difference in the lives of others.
Producers John Garbett ("Shrek") and Gerald Molen ("Schindler's List") collaborate writer/director Mitch Davis in telling an uplifting and beautiful story. Shot in the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, and New Zealand, the film abounds in beautiful scenery, captured by Brian Breheny's rich cinematography.
Christopher Gorham's excellent performance shows the evolution of an ignorant, but well-meaning boy into a grown man, powerful teacher and great leader. Joe Folau is fantastic and humorous in the supporting role of Feki, Groberg's missionary companion.
In a day of film filled with mindless violence, immorality and other inappropriate content, this film is like a breath of fresh air. Uplifting and thought-provoking, "The Other Side of Heaven" is guaranteed to leave you feeling better coming out of the theater than when you came in.
"The Other Side of Heaven" opens tomorrow at select theaters along the Wasatch Front in Utah. It will be available at more theaters in Utah starting December 21st, and its distribution is expected to expand from there.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The major Utah newspapers gave "The Other Side of Heaven" mixed reviews on Friday, its opening day, with the Salt Lake Tribune crediting the film with sincerity that overcomes its shortcomings. But the Deseret News called the film a "disappointment," and the Provo Daily Herald called it "a decent film," but not a great one.
The Deseret News' review wasn't all bad. It did say that "The Other Side of Heaven" is "good looking," especially for its small-by-hollywood-standards $8 million budget. But reviewer Jeff Vice also called the film "superficial" and not what it should have been. He also criticized lead actor Christopher Gorham for "his too-good-to-be-true portrayal" which "makes the character a bit bland." Vice gave the move 2 1/2 stars.
In contrast, the Salt Lake Tribune says "The Other Side of Heaven" is "refreshingly forthright," and adds "it's emotional honesty pulls it past some of its storytelling shortcomings." Gorham's performance, according to the Tribune's Sean Means, is one of "unassuming charm." Means' view added up to 3 1/2 stars. [Webmaster: Larsen is incorrect here. Sean Means actually awarded 2 1/2 stars to "The Other Side of Heaven."]
Oddly enough Vice and Means also disagreed on a technical aspect of the film. The Deseret News' Vice was impressed with the movie's storm effects, saying they rival those in the film "The Perfect Storm." But the Tribune's Means said one computer-generated tidal wave "looks like a half-finished outtake from 'The Perfect Storm.' "
Meanwhile, a clearer review in the Provo Daily Herald gave the film a rating similar to the Deseret News, a "C+," but did a better job of saying why. Reviewer Eric Snider said "The Other Side of Heaven" "faithfully tells the stories from Groberg's mission as if faithfully telling the stories from Groberg's mission is all it needs to do." Snider went on to say the film's plot is "episodic, moving from one event to another with little sense that any of them are having any lasting effect, and no sense of building toward something in particular." He also criticizes Gorham's acting, saying "even when emotional depth might be called for, Gorham doesn't do it." The combination, he concludes, doesn't make it a great film, "Nothing happens, and it happens to flat characters. It is not beyond enjoyment, but it is so soft and weak-willed that it's not liable to live in anyone's heart for longer than it takes to watch it."
'Heaven' lacks depth of real story
Deseret News 14Dec01 A2
By Jeff Vice: Deseret News movie critic
Sincere Mission Overcomes a No-Frills Budget in 'The Other Side of Heaven'
Salt Lake Tribune 14Dec01 A2
By Sean P. Means: Salt Lake Tribune
'Other Side' a faithful retelling
Provo UT Daily Herald 14Dec01 A2
By Eric D. Snider
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Sold out showings in two theaters along the Wasatch Front made "The Other Side of Heaven" the top-grossing family film per screen in the country this weekend. With a per screen average of $27,882, the limited release film beat out nationally-released films like Tom Cruise's "Vanilla Sky" which did $9,117 per screen.
The only film to beat "The Other Side of Heaven" in per screen averages was the R-rated comedy "The Royal Tenenbaums," starring an Oscar-winning ensemble cast that includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover and Gwyneth Paltrow. That movie was released in 5 theaters in Los Angeles and New York for a per screen average of $50,813, making "The Other Side of Heaven" the highest-grossing unrestricted film per screen in the nation.
"The Other Side of Heaven" Opens Across Utah on December 21.