"The Other Side of Heaven," the Hollywood-produced feature film about Elder John Groberg's missionary experiences in Tonga, is off to a roaring start. In it's first weekend in limited release, "The Other Side of Heaven" was the number one per-screen grossing family film in the country. By now, thousands of people have experienced the dramatic, faith-promoting events captured in that film. But amidst the storms and grass huts, if you look carefully, you might see evidence of a story behind the story. At the end of the film, after the credits roll, the words "Dedicated to the memory of John Paekau" briefly flash on the screen.
A veteran actor (you can also see him in "Lost Valley" ) Paekau plays the regal, white-suited Governor in "The Other Side of Heaven," a film that would prove to be his last.
Paekau died of a fatal heart attack literally a couple of hours after wrapping production on the film in the Cook Islands. It was an emotional experience for everyone involved. "When you're filming a motion picture on an island, and many of the island's residents are involved in the production in one way or another, you end up with a pretty close-knit community," explains writer/director Mitch Davis. And everyone felt the loss of their colleague and friend.
"One of the Cook Islanders (an extra in the film) burst in the door crying. She told me John had collapsed and that she thought I needed to give him a blessing," says Davis. The dramatic "blessing of Nuku" scene in which a little boy is healed through priesthood power was one of the final scenes shot in production, filmed just days before, and had been the topic of much discussion across the island.
Realizing he had no oil with him, Davis ran home to consecrate some olive oil from his kitchen. He managed to find someone at the mission home to assist and rushed to the hospital, oil in hand, only to arrive too late.
"John had never regained consciousness after his collapse. The doctor declared him dead as we stood outside the door. A few of the Polynesian actors and crew members were already there, comforting his wife and young grandson."
Grieved, Davis headed home again. He was scheduled to fly out that very night for New Zealand to prep for a full schedule of filming the following week. His family wouldn't be joining him for a few days, so he needed to say his goodbyes. He packed, hugged his wife and kids and then headed over to the hospital to check on John's wife and tell her how sorry he was he had to leave, and how much he wished he could be there for her.
When he got to the hospital, many of the cast and crew had spontaneously gathered and, according to Polynesian custom, had set up blankets and mats to hold an all-night vigil. Davis spoke with them briefly and then went inside.
"I found our First Assistant Director, Carey Carter, a large, Maori man, and his wife, Vanessa Rare, sitting in the room with John and Lovey," Davis recalls. "John's massive body was draped in a hospital blanket. Lovey was holding his right hand to her breast, stroking his arm, weeping gently. She talked about their life together, how it had not always been easy, but how it had been great for the last few years after John had 'found the Lord.' She talked about how John's love for her-and her for him-had never been sweeter, how he had hidden his heart ailment from her until quite recently, not wanting to upset her."
Paekau was a devout Christian and a man of faith and belief, though not a member of the Church. He was excited to be part of a movie about faith in God.
A few days later there was a memorial service for members of the cast and crew of the film to remember Paekau. It was to be a traditional Polynesian "tangi" where those who wanted could stand and share their remembrances of the departed.
Davis's son, Christian, was reportedly the only "pakeha" (non-Polynesian) to speak. He read the following tribute faxed from New Zealand by his father:
"The gentle giant is gone, but he has left not merely footsteps; rather a path that we may walk on our way back to Him. Go to the light, John. Greet the light! It lives in you."
After the tribute there was a moment or two of silence before two of the actresses from the film (Miriama Smith-who plays Lavania, and Apii McKinley-who plays Lavania's mother) jumped up and spontaneously began singing a tearful rendition of a hymn they had learned a few weeks earlier for the movie. "God be with you till we meet again," they sang and other voices joined in. "By his counsels guide, uphold you; With his sheep securely fold you. God be with you till we meet again..."
It was a fitting tribute. Davis still regrets that he couldn't be there himself to see it. But perhaps a greater gesture on his behalf was the dedication of the film to Paekau's memory. That and one other thing.
After visiting with Paekau's widow, Lovey, in the hospital that night, Davis headed back outside to be with his cast and crew for what little time was left for him on the island. Suddenly, Lovey came out and explained that the orderlies were anxious to dress her husband for burial before rigor mortis set in. Someone had delivered his suit from the hotel but they had forgotten to bring socks and Lovey couldn't reach anyone at the hotel to bring them. Davis suddenly remembered that the socks he had just put on for the flight to New Zealand were brand new. He explained this fact to Paekau's widow as he took of his shoes and handed her his socks. She took them graciously and went back into the hospital to dress her husband one last time.
"I thought nothing of the little sock incident until months later, in the editing room in Los Angeles, when the subject of John's passing came up in conversation. Jerry Molen (the executive producer of the film) became quite emotional as he recounted the number of Polynesian actors who had expressed their gratitude to him on my behalf for this tiny act of kindness."
The following comments by composer Kevin Kiner now appear on the Deseret Book ordering page for "The Other Side of Heaven" soundtrack CD:
Any good film score is a reflection of the film itself. Those who have seen "The Other Side of Heaven" will therefore not be surprised by the emotion and beauty that are found in this film's score.
As the composer of that score, however, I am quite surprised every time I hear it. I am certain I have never before created such wonderful textures and melodies, and thus I must give more credit to God for this achievement than to myself.
This score is a gift, and I have only been an instrument in bringing it to fruition. I hope you are as inspired by it as I am.
SALT LAKE CITY (Dec. 21) -- The Stable Gallery, a Salt Lake City art gallery, will be showing a special exhibit of photographs taken by Salt Lake resident Dr. Hugh Hogle during a trip to the Cook Islands. Proceeds from the exhibit will be donated to breast cancer research. The exhibit opens on Dec. 14.
"To Heaven and Back" is Hogle's first one-man show and will run through Jan. 17. The Stable Gallery is located at 132 E. Street.
Dr. Hogle, a respected breast cancer surgeon and researcher, took the photographs while visiting the filming of "The Other Side of Heaven," a new film that opened on Friday, Dec. 14. His stunning color photographs reveal the unique beauty of one of the loveliest places on earth, as featured in the movie.
John Garbett, owner of The Stable Gallery, was also one of the film's producers. Garbett invited Hogle and his wife to visit the filming of the movie in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
The island of Rarotonga, which doubles for the Kingdom of Tonga in the film, was first settled in 1200 by the restless voyagers of Polynesia. It supports a tropical rainforest that has changed little since their arrival. Its inland mountains, the broken heart of a dead volcano, are home to over a hundred flowing plants, and its palm lined beaches give way to a crystal clear lagoon encircled by coral reefs and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
Hugh Hogle graduated from the University of Utah Medical School and subsequently interned at UCLA Harbor General Hospital. In 1987 he focused his Salt Lake medical practice on diseases and surgery of the breast. He established the first breast care center in the Intermountain area and was director of Breast Care Services at St. Mark's Hospital. Hogle has been honored by the American Cancer Society and numerous local and national breast care related organizations. In 1995, while fishing in the Brazilian rainforest, Hogle suffered a stroke. He no longer practices medicine but enjoys spending time with his family, hunting, fishing and photography.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is the story of a young boy's extraordinary journey and the people that changed him forever. Based on the true experiences of John H. Groberg in the Tonga of the 1950s and explores the heart of what makes life worth living.
The Stable Gallery is open Monday - Fridays, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Holiday hours and Saturdays are 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. For more information, call 801-355-6872.
Life doesn't always give you what you want. Sometimes you just have to take what you get and go on.
Dr. Hugh Hogle knows that as well as anyone.
It's a lesson he learned as a physician and surgeon working with breast-cancer patients at Holy Cross Hospital, the first Breast Care Center in the Intermountain West, and as director of Breast Care Services at St. Mark's Hospital. (Many of the stories of these patients are told in a book, "Our Gift of Love," published in 1996 to help and encourage newly diagnosed patients.)
It's a lesson Hogle learned when his own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy the one thing she said she would never, ever do.
And then came his greatest challenge: In 1995, while fishing in Brazil, Hogle suffered a stroke that left him with limited mobility in his right arm and some difficulty with speech and unable to continue his medical practice.
But instead of packing it all in, Hogle turned to another of his passions nature photography.
Enter his friend and neighbor John Garbett, who is one of the producers of the movie "The Other Side of Heaven" and owner of the Salt Lake art gallery The Stable.
The movie tells of the LDS missionary experiences of Elder John Groberg in the Kingdom of Tonga during the 1950s. Filming was done in the Cook Islands, a small archipelago relatively close to New Zealand. "We spent two months there last summer," explained Garbett. "And I invited Hugh and his wife, Carol, to come along. 'Bring your camera,' I told him, 'and capture the essence of the island.' And he did."
Photographs from that excursion are currently being shown at The Stable in Hogle's first one-man show. Proceeds will benefit cancer research and programs through a group called Image Reborn.
They spent most of the time on Rarotonga, which, said Garbett, "is the broken heart of a submerged volcano. So, unlike many of the coral atoll islands, it has mountains and mists and tropical rain forests. There are more than a hundred different flowering plants. It's beautiful." It is a small island; you can drive around it in about 40 minutes. And it has a population of just more than 11,000. The people, who are closely related to the Maoris of New Zealand, were wonderful, said Hogle. "They were just as nice as can be."
Hogle shot thousands of photographs, and in such a setting you'd be hard-pressed not to get some that capture the beauty of the island. But he also tried to look beyond the natural beauty. He was particularly drawn to contrasts, he said to interesting juxtapositions of nature and culture, such as a basketball hoop nailed to a palm tree, vegetation growing up through the stones of a cemetery or reflections in the water.
He also sought out transition times early mornings and late evenings when light was changing and potential hung in the air.
That love affair with light is something that movie and still photographers share, said Garbett. "I know some directors who will only film during 'magic hours.' And in the tropics, especially, light can be a challenge. So often you get very bright but very flat light."
Hogle also tried to capture some of the wildlife birds, crabs, roosters. "The roosters are like a whole other group of characters," said Garbett. "They aren't wild, but they are free-ranging. They roost in trees. When we needed some as extras in the movie, the boys would go out at night with gunny sacks. The roosters would stay around the set for a few days and then would wander back to their trees."
But rooster pictures were easy compared to crabs. There's a coconut crab," said Hogle, "and if you get anywhere close, it goes in its hole. So you have to patiently wait."
The name of the exhibit, "To Heaven and Back," describes how he feels about Rarotonga, said Hogle. And he is pleased that he can continue to work with causes that are so close to his heart.
The interesting thing, said Garbett, is that they decided to do the show, "and a week later, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. So this became very personal for me as well."
The pictures capture the beauty and the soul of a place that many people may never get to visit. But, for both the photographer and for those who will benefit from his work, they are also portraits of courage.
"To Heaven and Back" will be shown at The Stable Gallery, 132 E Street, through Jan. 11. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 12-5 p.m. For information, call 355-6872.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of critics lamenting what a terrible year for movies 2001 has been. Isn't that what they said last year? And the year before? I don't necessarily disagree, but instead of adding my own grievances to the pile, I have hand-selected ten Must-See Movies of 2001, especially for you, loyal Meridian readers.
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
Rated PG-13 (for scary moments and mild language)
Story: Orphaned Harry Potter finds out his deceased parents were powerful wizards and enrolls in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to fulfill his exciting destiny.
Why See it?
- Because if you haven't read the fantastic book by J.K. Rowling, you really should.
- Because Hollywood didn't ruin the book.
- Because three upstart kids stole the movie from a cast of acting legends.
- Because director Chris Columbus fulfilled incredibly high expectations.
- Because we have six more Harry Potter films to look forward to!
Story: Carmen and Juni Cortez learn that their parents are really secret agents and have to rescue them from an entertainer bent on world domination.
Why See it?
- Because a rebel filmmaker made a fun family movie without all the bad stuff.
- Because families not only matter, but are worth fighting for. Yes, even little brothers.
- Spy gadgets and gizmos!
- Because you might spot George Clooney.
- Because the villain is a children's TV show producer gone bad (which might explain those frightening Teletubbies on PBS).
Story: When a little girl crosses the threshold into Monstropolis, the top-scaring monster and his one-eyed sidekick must get her back home before the boss finds out. Why See it?
Why See it?
- Because Pixar is 4 for 4 (after Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2).
- Because 3-D computer animation is light years ahead of traditional animation.
- Because John Goodman and Billy Crystal make hilarious buddies.
- Because you actually feel the depth of love a hairy monster has for one special girl.
- Didn't you see the advertisements? It's an "instant classic!"
Story: Shrek, an ugly green ogre, goes on a quest to rescue beautiful princess Fiona, but falls in love with her before they can return to vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad.
Why See it?
- Because adults enjoy it just as much as kids, if not more.
- Because it is an amazing work of art.
- Because it is favored to win the first ever Oscar for Best Animated Film.
- Because DreamWorks Animation is finally giving Walt Disney Pictures a run for their money.
- Because Eddie Murphy is a lovable jackass, gingerbread men speak, and ogres have hearts of gold.
Story: When a dead woman is found in a small Utah town, the stunned sheriff, who is also the Mormon bishop, sets out to find the murderer.
Why See it?
- Because Richard Dutcher bravely explores a touchy subject: murder in a Mormon town.
- Because this is a powerful and provocative film.
- Because Dutcher sets his climactic emotional scene during a Sacrament Meeting - and succeeds.
- Because this is a powerful and provocative film by an LDS artist.
- The star of God's Army, Matthew Brown, is in it (just ask your daughters).
Story: A fifteen-year-old discovers that she is the princess of a small European country.
Why See it?
- Because it was panned by critics and still became a $100 million blockbuster.
- Because it proves that family audiences still have power in Hollywood.
- Because it proves that G-rated, live action movies are valid (as long as they're good).
- Because Julie Andrews is in it.
- Because you would rather support this than American Pie 2.
Story: In 1914, twenty-eight explorers set out for Antarctica, but when they lose their ship to the ice and abandon ship, survival goes from unlikely to impossible.
Why See it?
- Because it is one of the most impressive survival stories you will ever see.
- Because this documentary uses actual footage shot by Shackleton's men.
- Because Sir Ernest Shackleton is a model of courage in the face of utter failure.
- Because documentaries can be so much more than the snoozefests you saw in high school. You will be engrossed by this one. Trust me.
- Because you will appreciate your warm, comfortable bed more than usual.
Story: After his father's death, a son recalls how his provincial mother and educated father fell in love in rural China.
Why See it?
- Because Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang does not make bad films.
- Because this is Zhang's second G-rated film that deals with sophisticated themes.
- Because, in filmmaking, sometimes less is more.
- Because love, loyalty, sacrifice and home are very good things to value.
- Because I needed a foreign film to round out this list.
Story: With eight companions sworn to protect him, innocent hobbit Frodo embarks on an epic quest to destroy an evil ring that has come into his hands.
Why See it?
- Because J.R.R. Tolkien's 100 million readers aren't wrong.
- Because a little-known, independent filmmaker from New Zealand put an entire studio on the line and, in the process, restored the magic to Hollywood epics.
- Because heroes aren't always the biggest and strongest, but the pure in heart.
- Because good will triumph over evil in the end.
- Because director Peter Jackson didn't ruin the book and still blew diehard fans away.
Story: In the 1950's, John Groberg leaves his sweetheart to serve a mission to the people of Tonga.
Why See it?
- Because it is the most mainstream Hollywood film about Mormons since Brigham Young: Frontiersman (1940). And it is better.
- Because it will make you laugh and cry (a lot).
- Because you will fall in love with Tonga and its people.
- Because story always comes first - and this is a dramatic, inspirational and true story.
- Because the LDS filmmakers will surprise you with their taste and their talent.
- Because it needs your support. Check http://www.othersideofheaven.com/ for release dates.
Maybe 2001 wasn't such a bad year after all. One could even argue that it was a banner year for LDS filmmakers. If you see only one film on this list, see The Other Side of Heaven. It may not be the most expensive or even the most flawless, but it is the most personal. It is a beautiful reflection of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint and a missionary. It is also an exciting sign of things to come. Line by line, rung by rung, our Latter-day Saint filmmakers are being heard and climbing ever higher. Onwards and upwards. I'll see you at the movies in 2002.
Two "local boy makes good" stories -- one conventional, the other quite strange -- define Utah's year in movies.
The conventional story begins with Richard Dutcher, the Utah County filmmaker who released "Brigham City" in April. The movie, in which Dutcher played a sheriff (and Mormon bishop) tracking a serial killer...
The movie's dark themes and PG-13 rating surprised fans of Dutcher's debut, the family friendly Mormon missionary drama "God's Army." Still, "Brigham City" was a qualified success at the box office, and demonstrated Dutcher's growth as a filmmaker.
Dutcher did not rest after the movie's release, announcing an ambitious production, "The Prophet," based on the life of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith. Meanwhile, other producers announced movies about such topics as the Mormon pioneers' trek to Utah and the funny things that happen in a singles' ward. In mid-December, "The Other Side of Heaven," a $7 million film chronicling a young missionary's experiences in Tonga (based on a memoir by John H. Groberg, a member of the church's leadership in the First Quorum of the Seventy), opened in Utah theaters and recorded strong box-office figures.
The bizarro-world version of Dutcher's story is the tale of how Trent Harris...