Scene from the movie “Witnesses,” which premiered in theaters nationwide over the weekend. Watch the trailer above. | Youtube screenshot
IDAHO FALLS — A new movie, which opened in 350 theaters nationwide over the weekend, is now the No. 1 faith film in America and one of the top 10 films overall at the box office.
“Witnesses,” an independent production about the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, was the 10th highest-grossing film at the box office, according to the-numbers.com.
David Whitmer, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery are known to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the three witnesses. For nearly 200 years, their words have been published in every copy of the Book of Mormon as “The Testimony of Three Witnesses.” They describe seeing the gold plates, from which the book was translated. The story of how they became witnesses is not as well known as their words among members of the church.
Mark Goodman, the film’s director, tells EastIdahoNews.com “Witnesses” portrays this story from a unique perspective.
“The story is told through the eyes of older David Whitmer as he is interviewed by a young reporter and that reporter represents countless interviews Whitmer actually had with many people,” Goodman says.
Goodman, who is a member of the LDS Church, says he was inspired to tell this story because the full story has never been told on film and he loves this time period in the church’s history.
“Other films have touched on it,” he says. “Many church members have what I would call a surface knowledge. They know these men, that they claim to have seen the plates and an angel. Then they left the church. Rarely do we get into the details of why they left the church and so when you come out of this film, you have a completely different perspective.”
The leading actors who were cast in the movie are in their 20s — the same age their characters were when the events depicted in this film took place. Many of them are not members of the church but Goodman says that doesn’t take away from the quality of their performances.
“For us, what was most important was getting the best talent that we could. I didn’t care a bit about their backgrounds. This is a good film because of those performances, regardless of where they come from. I was grateful for their talent,” he says.
One of the central figures in this story is Joseph Smith, who translated the Book of Mormon and helped organize the LDS Church.
Goodman says this movie offers a unique portrayal of Smith that audiences have never seen before.
“We are so used to seeing Joseph portrayed as a seasoned prophet in his mid-30s but this story happened when he was in his 20s. We chose to tell the story of Joseph Smith as an emerging prophet, as a young man who was trying to figure out what it meant to have talked to God and what it meant to be the head of a growing church.”
Smith is portrayed by Paul Wuthrich and Goodman says his performance of the Latter-day Saint leader is one of the best he’s ever seen.
Caleb Spivak as Oliver Cowdery in a scene from “Witnesses.” | Screenshot from trailer on Youtube
Caleb Spivak was cast in the role of Oliver Cowdery. Spivak says the limited knowledge he had of the Latter-day Saints prior to being cast in the role gave him a critical view of Joseph Smith and the church he established.
After being involved in this film project, he says his perspective has changed.
“I am a better person for having been a part of this film. I have much greater respect for Mormonism and the faith these three men had in working with Joseph Smith the prophet,” Spivak says.
There one scene in particular for Spivak that best illustrates how his attitude shifted during the making of “Witnesses.”
“There’s a moment in the movie where older David Whitmer is saying to Edwin Kelly, the reporter, ‘Have you even read the Book of Mormon? Here you are being critical and judging my personal experience but you haven’t even read the Book of Mormon.’ So it reinforced (the idea) of being open-minded and not judging a book by its cover,” says Spivak.
Regardless of religion or one’s personal beliefs, Spivak says the film’s messages of perseverance, faith and brotherly love are universal and relevant for everyone.
Brandon Purdie, President of Purdie Distribution, which distributed the film, says the response to “Witnesses” has been unlike any other film the company has produced.
“I’ve worked on almost every movie that’s come out about the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I’ve never seen a response like we’re getting for ‘Witnesses.’ This is the most excited, the most aggressive I’ve seen fans be. We have thousands of requests from people wanting the film to come to their area. This release has really just begun,” Purdie says.
“Witnesses” is currently playing in Rexburg, Idaho Falls and Blackfoot. Visit the website for more information or watch the trailer above.