The Other Side of Heaven may be as close to movie heaven as we have ever been. This lyrical, endearing film from producers Gerald Molen and John Garbett, written and directed by Mitch Davis, is wonderful!
Being a moviemaker myself, I have developed a certain respectful disdain for movie critics. Critics profess to be objective. I openly confess this subjective gushing over The Other Side of Heaven is straight from the heart.
Having thus disqualified myself from any esoteric expectations, I can be honest, open, and simplistic in my praise for The Other Side of Heaven. I loved this film. It touched me. It entertained me. It took me on a journey to a place I have never been. It enlightened me, and inspired me. It touched my heart and made me cry. What else could you want from a movie?
The simplicity of this film, the lush beauty of the island locations, the sumptuous cinematography, the superb casting, the extraordinary performances, and most of all the feel good journey that leaves you better than when you walked into the theater, overpowers the inevitable pretentious nitpicking of self-absorbed critics more intent on impressing us with their syllabically slashing stilettos than responding to their own honest emotions.
The director, Mitch Davis, is a friend of mine. The producer, Jerry Molen is a legend. I had the good fortune of meeting the other producer, John Garbett, the day I saw the movie.
I was invited to a rough cut in LA a month ago but couldn't be there. When a passing breeze whispered that the film was being shown to "family and friends" at a very private screening at the Tower Theater in the avenues of Salt Lake City, I called the RSVP number and talked my way into a couple of tickets.
I was sure neither Mitch nor Jerry would mind and John's wife was the kindly voice at the other end of the RSVP line.
As it turned out, they were all most gracious about my desire to see their film. Moreover, when I walked out of the theater I trashed the article I had written for Meridian magazine -- due that day -- and begged for permission to share my feelings for their film with the faithful followers of movies at Meridian Magazine.
They were kind to agree. They have allowed us all this "sneak preview" even though the release of the film and attendant publicity will be carefully choreographed -- as befitting this very special film -- when it rolls out late this summer or early fall.
Where are the Movies?
In recent months you have been kind enough to read, and even respond to my musings about the future of films that "tell the Mormon story." We have pondered the question together, "Where are the great Mormon movies?"
Curiously, the best film -- and in some ways the first -- to qualify as a "great Mormon movie" is not a Mormon movie at all. It is a full-blown Hollywood feature film that will easily play to the world, "in every movie center" as Spencer Kimball foresaw. You got it. The Other Side of Heaven.
Over 600 people were involved in the making of the film. Four of them are members of the Church. The Other Side of Heaven tells the true story of Elder John Groberg's missionary adventures in Tonga in the 1950's. The screenplay was adapted from Groberg's fascinating book, In the Eye of the Storm. Most of the movie was filmed on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The opening and ending of the film were shot in and around Auckland, New Zealand. The locations down under doubled nicely for Utah and Idaho.
If you trust me at all, do two things:
First, do not mistake The Other Side of Heaven as having anything at all to do with the recent buzz about "Mormon cinema."
Second (and this is the most important), GO SEE IT! Take your family, take your friends, tell your relatives, and send an e-mail to everyone you know. Do not miss The Other Side of Heaven when it opens in a first run theater near you.
We fuss and talk and worry and stew about the quality of movies. We wonder if there is anything we can do. The age-old adage of the movie business is simple enough: Hollywood responds to what the audience likes. What the audience likes is measured by the number of people who buy tickets.
Let me put it this way. If you miss The Other Side of Heaven you will have missed a delightful, enlightening, uplifting and inspirational experience.
But I won't let you off that easy. If you miss The Other Side of Heaven, and if you miss the opportunity to take your family, friends and everyone you know, you forfeit forever the right to complain about the movies. I'll keep track of you.
In the days of anticipation before a film opens, film makers worry about expectations. When I have a film on the way I consciously endeavor to manage and minimize what people expect of the movie long before it appears on the screen.
I have observed that success and failure are too often measured in degrees of variance between expectation and reality rather than an open and unbiased standard.
Lest therefore my exuberant hyperbole defeat my very purpose by inflating your expectation to the point of impossible satisfaction, let me tell you about the people who made the movie and bring us both back to earth -- having been, shall we say, to the other side of Heaven.
Meet Mitch Davis
Jeffrey R. Holland called me in 1985. He was at that time the president of BYU. I had the good pleasure of knowing him on both a personal and professional level. He told me about a recent graduate by the name of Mitch Davis who simply stood out. It was clear that somewhere along the line he had stamped Davis "USDA choice;" [Uncommon, Smart, Dedicated and Adept.]
"Mitch wants to make movies," President Holland continued. "As a personal favor to me, would you be willing to talk with him and give him some advice?"
Looking back I am not sure but what the "advice" Jeff Holland was hoping for was "forget movies, keep your 'real job', raise kids, be a dad, and forget Hollywood."
If that is what Jeff Holland wanted I failed him completely. That was not what I suggested to aspiring film maker Mitch Davis. We "met" on the phone. The urgency in his voice in the first five minutes revealed the one characteristic essential to making movies. The kid had PASSION!
Mitch and I became friends. It was an easy friendship for me. He was bright, motivated, committed to the Gospel, and shared my love of films and my passion for making movies. I even fancied myself a sort of mentor.
In a curious way my advice to young Mitch Davis was to take a path very different than the one I had followed. I did not go to film school after graduating from BYU. I bought a 16mm camera and began making films. In time it became clear to me that the friendships formed and the alliances made in film school -- particularly at UCLA and USC -- seemed to form the foundation for what was evolving as a new Hollywood dynasty. Lucas, Coppola, Marshall, Scorsesi, Zemeckis and others, connected at film school, went on to change the world of movie-making.
It was hard not to wonder what I may have missed by missing film school. My advice to Mitch was once for him and twice for me. It was very specific. "Go to USC, be great, direct the senior project, graduate top in your class, and plunge into the Hollywood mainstream."
Tenacity and Passion
That was 15 years ago. Mitch was 27 years old with two kids when he started film school, 29 years old with three kids when he left. For all you wannabe film makers out there, The Other Side of Heaven has a very distinct message: Tenacity, persistence and passion are absolutely essential if you really want to make movies. If you happen to have talent it will help a little.
Mitch was hired out of film school by Walt Disney Productions. The future looked bright. His bold journey through the tangled forest of Hollywood had begun.
At Disney Mitch worked with Jeffrey Katzenberg, developing scripts, listening to pitches, working with writers and directors. Mitch remembers, "I had only been at Disney a few weeks when I was told I was to take a meeting with Carol Burnett. She and some writers wanted to pitch a movie idea to us. I felt completely unqualified to pass judgement on any of Carol Burnett's ideas, and on my way into the meeting I realized I was wearing shoes from my film school days, both of which had holes in the soles. I don't remember a word Carol Burnett said, but I do remember how hard I concentrated on keeping both feet on the floor."
It is a curious anecdote and looking back becomes a metaphor of Mitch Davis' determination to be in Hollywood but not of Hollywood. He has clearly kept both feet on the floor.
Mitch left Disney to take a job as VP of development for a company that had an output deal with Columbia Studios. It was there that Mitch met Producer Gerald Molen, a most fortuitous encounter.
Molen recalls, "I met Mitch it 1991 when I was working as one of the producers on "Hook" on the Columbia Studios lot. Mitch had a development job in an office building near our sound stage, and he dropped by the set one day. He said he was LDS and had heard that I was also a member of the Church.He invited me to lunch, and we've been friends ever since."
It has been interesting to retrace the adventures of Mitch Davis. We have stayed loosely in touch over all the years. Mitch shared with me the heavy burden of expectations piled upon him by the fiercely competitive business. Demands and expectations forced critical choices. He took Sundays off and went to church and carved out time for family. Others scrambled hand over fist and over each other to climb the ladder of gold and glory working 24 - 7. No families, no children, no commitments.
The thorns of the dark woods scratched him but he refused to bleed. Briars blocked the way but he refused to take a detour from his straight and narrow path. In time he was worn and weary and far, far away from making a movie of his own or making any difference.
He worked all day and wrote all night. He finally got a break. He sold a script. Bolstered by this little success and his incurable optimism Mitch moved his family to Colorado and went into something he called "writer's retreat."
Called to be Bishop
Shortly after moving, Mitch finally got a chance to direct his first film. It was a low budget movie based on his own screenplay. The small independent production company wanted his script. He wanted to direct. That's the way deals work sometimes. But it was never Mitch's movie. He was conveniently fired over "creative differences". Whoever took over ruined the film.
Mitch licked his wounds and went back to Colorado. He continued to write. He honored his wife. He raised his kids. He served where he could, and in the middle of it all, they called him to be a Bishop.
Mitch laughed softly to himself as he reflected on the change the calling brought into his life.
"Being called as a Bishop was really a surprise. I decided that the ups and downs of the movie business would be incompatible with my church assignment, so I put my filmmaking dreams on hold for a few years. I felt my family and ward deserved more stability than filmmaking could provide at the time. I returned to electronic sales, the same kind of job I had right out of college."
His voice reflected the deep disappointment and sense of resignation that decision had wrought.
"It was very difficult at first, particularly when some of my film school buddies started to hit it big. My kids would come back from the theater after seeing a movie one of my friends had directed, and I confess, it made me envious. But it was the right thing to do at the time."
Mitch served five years as Bishop. We more or less lost touch in those years. Movie making had been the bond of our friendship. When he left it all behind, he seemed to disappear. How lucky we are that in setting it aside for five years, Mitch never let his dream of making movies be abandoned.
As his tour of priesthood duty ended, Mitch began to write again. He remembers, "The minute I was released, I went back into film making full-time."
I suspect there are some wives reading this who are married to men frustrated by their unfulfilled artistic passions. You may not want to read the next part. You have permission to delete the article and turn off the computer. When a husband and bread winner quits his real job to pursue his dreams is wonderful to watch in a movie. It is terrifying in the real world. But that is what Mitch Davis did. Rightfully, he gives his remarkable wife all the credit.
"There have been two crossroads in my film making life, both of which revolved around my amazing wife. The first was 15 years ago when we decided to sell everything we owned, pack up the car, and move to L.A. to go to film school. The second was three years ago when we decided I would quit my secure sales job and go back to film making full-time."
Mitch's feelings for his partner and best friend were evident in his voice. He spoke with warm affections.
"In both cases, the decisions we made meant enormous sacrifices of personal comfort and security for my wife, Michelle. In both cases she said, "Honey, I think you should go for it." How do you account for that kind of faith and selflessness? How do you pay it proper tribute?"
Mitch went back to writing. He began to read and listen and search for the right material.
The Right Movie
"I didn't really know what my first project would be," Mitch told me. "I wrote two scripts before coming across Elder Groberg's book. I had two different friends recommend it to me, but it was hard for me to imagine finding a Hollywood movie inside the covers of a church book. The second friend actually went into his library and pulled his copy off the shelf and handed it to me.
"Just read it!" he said rather forcefully. So I did, and he was absolutely right. Only a few pages into the book, I knew there was a great movie there, and I knew I had to do my part to make it happen. That was almost three years ago."
It could be argued that the best thing Mitch did on his return to the world of movie making was reconnect with the two men in his turbulent career that had offered support and encouragement.
Mitch met John Garbett in 1988 while working at Disney. Garbett had started his own film career at Disney, where he made 25 Disney Sunday Movies with Michael Eisner. He served as a member of the BYU Film School's Advisory Council, and was instrumental in setting up the BYU intern program at Disney Studios.
John moved to the production of theatrical films by serving as production executive on such films as Father of the Bride, Three Men and a Little Lady, Alive, and The Frighteners. He also served as a consultant on The Matrix and helped develop the Dreamworks feature, Shrek, which opens next week.
Earlier in this article, I referred to Gerald Molen as a legend. In every movie circle I know, he is surely that. By reputation, I have "known" him for many years, but I actually met him for the first time the day I saw The Other Side of Heaven. For me it was a delightful "reunion."
Jerry Molen is one of Hollywood's most successful producers. His credits include Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, and Hook. He has been executive producer on an impressive line up of films including Twister, Days of Thunder and The Flintstones. He is currently producing Minority Report for Steven Spielberg.
Jerry told me, "Making The Other Side of Heaven was my best filmmaking experience bar none.
"We had a limited budget, an aggressive schedule, and no weather cover. That meant we had no wiggle room whatsoever and no money to buy our way out of problems. Because we were on a remote island, we couldn't just run down to the nearest hardware store when we needed something. Every day was a test of our faith, as well as a test of our filmmaking skills.
The other thing about making this movie was its uplifting content. It's not every day you get to make a movie about a man like John Groberg. It's not every day you get to immortalize experiences like those he had during his mission."
I asked Jerry how this filmmaking experience compared to the other films in his remarkable career.
"Prior to the making of this movie, my most satisfying filmmaking experience was working as one of the producers on Schindler's List. I am very sensitive to the fact that the film ended up receiving an R rating. It contained some very difficult content. But in a very real way, that movie changed the world. One of the problems with the current rating system is that it simply does not provide a category for those special few films that deal directly with the truth. As we all know, sometimes the truth is difficult to look at."
Jerry shared a very interesting anecdote he is fond of relating. It happened in Austria following the completion of Schindler's List. Steven Spielberg, Branko Lustig, a fellow producer, and I traveled to Vienna for one of the film's premieres. Following the screening we were asked to stand in a receiving line to meet some of the dignitaries that had been in attendance. One particular woman stepped up to me and in broken English asked me what I had done on the film. I told her I was one of the producers. As I was shaking her hand she said matter-of-factly, "but you are not Jewish."
I said in response, "No Ma'am, I am not."
She said, "Then what are you?"
I responded with "Well, Ma'am, I am what is commonly referred to as a Mormon. A member of ..." and before I could complete my sentence Mr. Spielberg reached over, took the woman by the hand and ushered her to his position whereupon he took over answering her questions. (Thankfully)
After we had finished greeting all those participating in the line we proceeded to the pick up point for our ride to the hotel. While we stood waiting in the cold night air for the cars, Steven leaned over to me and asked if I had been put off by the woman's questioning. I assured him that I had not been and then he asked me a very interesting question. He said he had overheard the woman had said and then he asked, "Jerry, what is a Mormon?"
I replied, "Steven, they are the best friends the Jews ever had." At that point we boarded our transportation and returned to the hotel. The little incident came home to me a year or so later when I received a card that began, "Jerry, my dear Mormon friend." I will always treasure it.
Following the making of Schindler's List, I made myself a promise that someday I would take whatever film making clout I had and use it to help tell the story of Mormonism in the same way Schindler's List tells part of the story of Judaism.
I think we have done that with The Other Side of Heaven. The next time anyone asks me about my faith, I can say there's a little movie I'd like them to see."
There are two reasons I wanted to write this article.
First, I want everyone to see the movie. I want people to get a glimpse of the fine men with enormous talent - who happen to be members of the church - who gave so much to make the film a reality.
But I also wanted to offer some answers to a question I am so often asked by aspiring young filmmakers.
How do you get from here to there?
There is no one answer. The answers are not easy. Mitch Davis was accepted by and attended one of the very best film school in the world. He graduated with honors. He worked for Disney. He developed films for Columbia. He wrote a pile of scripts. He is bright, articulate and dedicated.
It took him 15 years to get "his movie" made. And in the end, he was blessed by the help of others who have likewise spent a lifetime developing their talent and credibility.
Jerry Molen said of Mitch Davis, " My hat is really off to Mitch for the dogged determination he showed in seeing this film to completion. The first thing you look for in a director is passion, and Mitch's passion is on the screen in every moment of this film."
To those who aspire to be among the "inspired hearts and talented fingers" to whom I have so often referred, Mitch Davis, a true warrior from the trenches who has survived the battle, offers this advice.
"First, get trained. If at all possible, get some Hollywood-based, real world training. Because, like it or not, Hollywood sets the standard for the language of popular culture spoken around the world. We don't have to have the same message as everyone else, but we have to speak the same language if we want the world to hear us.
"Second, get connected. For good or ill, Hollywood is the place you make friends with people who have the power to make movies.
"Third, be patient. My film making path was much less direct than I would have wanted it to be. But the Lord guided that path, sometimes even designed it.
"Fourth, be strong. Hollywood has a way of beating the courage out of you to say what you really think and be who you really are. What a tragedy it would be -- and it happens in Hollywood every day -- if you gained a voice, only to forget what you wanted to say."
When I asked Jerry Molen for his sage advice he agreed to share with me - and you - the three magic keys to success in making movies. Write these down.
Number one, preparation.
Number two, preparation
Number three preparation.
Mitch summed it up like this, "Finally, there will come a time when you have to strike out on your own. I think it was Caesar who said, "I came, I saw, I conquered." After Michelle and I left Hollywood, we used to joke, "We came, we saw, we left." There is no shame in that."
No shame at all, my good friend Mitch, 'cause you came back. You stayed the course. You and your remarkable wife. Bravo.
We can be grateful Jerry Molen and John Garbett and Mitch Davis were prepared and stayed the course. We are the ones who now benefit from their accumulated talent and tenacity.
Don't take it from me dear reader. You must see for yourself. Mitch and Jerry and John have given us something wonderful in The Other Side of Heaven. As much as anything I believe, they have given us a part of themselves.
Stick a note on your refrigerator. Paste a yellow memo on your bathroom mirror. Tie a string around your finger. Do what ever it takes to make sure you go to see The Other Side of Heaven and rejoice in the joy of movies once again.
For more information about The Other Side of Heaven go to www.othersideofheaven.com OR eyeofthestormthemovie.com
Salt Lake City, UT - Excel Entertainment Group has announced an official release date for the upcoming big-budget feature The Other Side of Heaven, a new film from the Academy Award-winning producer of Schindler's List.
The Other Side of Heaven will open in 2 Wasatch Front (Utah) theaters on Friday, December 14. The following week, December 21, the film will expand to open in over 50 theaters in Utah and Idaho.
The film is expected to open in other markets, including Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada and California in January 2002, and in other markets around the country by early spring.
>From Academy Award-winning producer Gerald R. Molen (Schindler's List, Jurassic Park), The Other Side of Heaven stars Christopher Gorham (A Life Less Ordinary, "Felicity") and Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries). The film is based on the published memoirs of John H. Groberg, who in the 1950's traveled to the Kingdom of Tonga.
Filmed in New Zealand and the Cook Islands with a primarily Maori and Samoan supporting cast, The Other Side of Heaven tells the true story of Groberg's adventures on the islands of Tonga as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The film had a production budget of $7 million, making it the largest film Excel has distributed.
Distributors say they have chosen to open this way in order to see the film play in its potentially strongest markets before Christmas, traditionally one of the year's busiest box office seasons.
Utah and Idaho, where the film will initially open, have some of the largest population concentrations in the nation of both Polynesians and members of the Church.
In 1954, when John H. Groberg received a mission call signed by President David O. McKay to serve in the Kingdom of Tonga, the young man excitedly shared news with an older relative, who sadly said, "Oh no! A smart young boy like you! Why can't they send you someplace civilized like England?" Crestfallen, but not discouraged, Groberg replied, "I am going to Tonga, and it will be the right place for me because that is where the Lord wants me to go." 1
Forty-seven years later, Groberg's decision to serve is still affecting thousands of people around the world.
Today, the unassuming missionary from Idaho Falls is the subject of a major motion picture. From the producer of Schindler's List and Jurassic Park, and starring Christopher Gorham (A Life Less Ordinary) and Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries), comes the compelling, enduring and true story of a young man and his extraordinary journey among people who would change his life forever. The Other Side of Heaven will open in theaters on December 14.
Years after John Groberg set out for the tiny and exotic islands of a pacific nation, he was called as a General Authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A leader in the Church approached him and asked him to write a book about his missionary experiences. With some hesitation born of a sense that his experiences were no more extraordinary than those of any other dedicated missionary, Elder Groberg honored the request by penning and publishing his memoirs as the book In the Eye of the Storm (Bookcraft, 1993).
Mitch Davis, a screenwriter and a member of the Church, came across Elder Groberg's book when two friends, including producer John Garbett, suggested he read it. "I had been wanting to tell the story of a missionary since I myself had served a mission in Argentina. I never quite found a story I thought would work for the general public until I read Elder Groberg's book. About 30 pages in, I realized that there was a beautiful tale therelots of broad adventure, a beautiful romance and an experience in a foreign land that was unique yet universal." Davis immediately set about securing movie rights to the book.
"Naturally, I was very surprised when I got a call from my publisher saying that someone wanted the movie rights to my book," said Elder Groberg. "Who would want to make a movie about my experiences, I wondered."
In fact, one of the most respected names in Hollywood was interested. Davis submitted a screenplay to Garbett and esteemed Hollywood producer Gerald R. Molen, both members of the Church. Molen won the 1993 Best Picture Academy Award for his work on Schindler's List.
"The Other Side of Heaven was my best moviemaking experience bar none," says Molen. "[One] wonderful thing about this movie was its uplifting content. It's not everyday that you get to make a movie about a man like John Groberg."
Once again met with the prospect of being uncomfortably thrust into a limelight not of his own making, Elder Groberg consulted with leaders in the Church and also met with Davis and the producers. He asked his wife, Jean Sabin Groberg, what she thought.
"Her first reaction was, 'no!' I could understand how she felt," said Elder Groberg. "But I met with Mitch and got wonderful recommendations from others about him and his team. After meeting and talking to them, I felt good about going ahead, and my leaders raised no objections."
Thus began the process of developing Davis' first draft of a screenplay into a film that would be shown to the world and accurately portray the events of Elder Groberg's mission.
"I told Mitch that as long as the movie was true to the book, I had no objections," Groberg continued. "My involvement in the script-writing process was minimal."
One of the challenges in adapting Elder Groberg's book for the big screen was finding a way to tell the story in a two-hour cinematic format.
"Mitch told me that to do the whole book justice he would have to make two three-hour films, which wasn't possible," continues Elder Groberg. "So he ended up making the script a composite of events in the book, while remaining true to the essence of the story. For example, I actually lived on two different islands, but in the film they combined the characteristics of those places into one place. The events in the film are essentially true to what actually happened, but the sequence may be a little different. I feel that the film captures the spirit of the book really well."
Faced with the situation of being both a leader in the Church (he is currently serving as Area President of the Utah South Area) and the subject of a major film, Groberg struggled to find the best way of separating his willing missionary service from commercial gain.
"At the outset, Jean and I decided we would not take any 'consulting' or other fees from the film. I felt that the integrity of the book spoke for itself and so should the film. My wife and I, along with a grandson and a daughter and her husband traveled to Rarotonga and New Zealand during the filming to more or less 'see what was going on.' We did so at our own expense. We have continued that policy and feel good about it," Elder Groberg said.
During his visit to the filming of The Other Side of Heaven in the Cook Islands, Elder Groberg met with the actors who portrayed the people he knew and loved. Upon meeting Anne Hathaway, a rising young star in Hollywood who plays the role of Jean Sabin, Elder Groberg exclaimed, "So you're the lucky girl who gets to play my wife!"
Elder Groberg also met with Christopher Gorham, who plays a young Elder Groberg in the film. "I spoke with Christopher on the phone one time and was impressed with the intelligent questions he asked before he came down to Rarotonga to start filming. I suppose this might be a little presumptuous on my part, but, well, I kind of looked like that myself-happy and full of energy and life. I would say that he's a good representation of what I like to think I was like then. Not necessarily in looks, but in demeanor and personality."
One of the other key roles in the film was the character of Feki, the Tongan man who was Elder Groberg's first companion on the island. Joe Folau, the Tongan actor who won the role, was an "excellent choice" according to Elder Groberg.
"The first thing you noticed about Feki was his smile. And that's the first thing you notice about Joe. He really has that smile. I always called it an infectious, or a contagious smile. Feki was always smiling, even though I know there were times that were difficult for him. Feki knew some English but was told by the mission president not to speak any English to me. I know that was hard on Feki, but he obeyed. Feki had not been a proselytizing missionary before, but was a building missionary and good member of the Church. He was used to working with his hands, but now he was being asked to sort of baby sit a young American who really didn't know much. But he always smiled and had a good, positive attitude. And I think Joe Folau fills that part excellently."
Since his first mission in Tonga, Elder Groberg has repeatedly returned to the South Pacific. He served as a mission president over Tonga, Niue and Fiji and has visited as a Regional Representative and a General Authority in the region numerous times. He and his family hold a special love in their hearts for the South Pacific and the Polynesian people.
"One of the reasons I have been positive about the movie has been the feeling that it could be helpful to Tonga and the Tongan people. They sometimes get a 'bad rap,' especially in America. My experience is that they are a faithful, loving and kind people. There are individuals who are very different, of course, but I loved them and appreciated them. In many ways, they saved my life and I feel wonderful about maybe helping them a little in this way," Groberg said.
The most important reason for Elder Groberg's support of the film is his testimony of Christ, and his hope that this film will introduce people to truths about the love of God.
"Another reason for being positive about this movie is my feeling that people everywhere need to feel and know that there is a God in Heaven who is our Father and who cares for us and helps us, especially through his son Jesus Christ. I learned clearly and unquestionably of this connection between heaven and earth, and I hope that others can too."
1. John Groberg, In the Eye of the Storm, (Bookcraft, 1993), 10.
The feature film The Other Side of Heaven is due out in select theaters this December. A video trailer and information about the film can be found at www.othersideofheaven.com.
Elder Groberg's missionary memoirs, entitled The Eye of the Storm can be purchased [from Deseret Book].
As Elder John H. Groberg was serving his mission in 1954, a dark, heavy air fell over the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu. The people instinctively searched for shelter as the winds reversed themselves, spraying salty water onto the unprotected side of the tiny island.
"Trees were uprooted, houses were toppled, roofs went flying," Elder Groberg said. " A vacuum effect occurred sometimes during the hurricane, causing pieces of reed and blades of grass to become like tiny spears that buried themselves in trees and even killed small animals. I saw pieces of flying tin roofing cut small trees in half and become deeply imbedded in the thick trunks of other trees."1
Years later, Elder Groberg recorded this experience and other significant events from his Latter-day Saint mission. His memoirs were published as the book, In the Eye of the Storm, which recently became the subject of a major motion picture, The Other Side of Heaven, due out in theaters December 14th.
First-time writer/director Mitch Davis worked alongside two major Hollywood producers in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and in New Zealand where The Other Side of Heaven was filmed on location.
"The hurricane sequence was one of the most exciting scenes to shoot," Davis said. "It took place in the inland jungle of Rarotonga where the art department constructed the set. There were multiple cameras, wind machines, rain towers and cabled huts and trees rigged to fall on cue."
Producer John Garbett said, "Shooting this sequence called for a lot of planning. One of the limitations of being on a small island was that we had to bring all of the equipment on a boat from New Zealand, and it took a week to ten days to get there."
"We rehearsed for a week with the special effects and stunt people and they ultimately wound up shooting it over the course of a couple of days," said Garbett.
The sequence consisted of Christopher Gorham (as Elder Groberg) and Joe Folau (as Groberg's mission companion, Feki) running through the tumultuous wind, rainfall and debris of the hurricane to rescue a young child whose fale, or hut, is about to blow away.
"Shooting was a blast-literally" Gorham said. "We had explosives, wind machines, rain. . . they'd cleared a couple of paths through and put down a couple fallen-over trees and then they turned on the big fans and ran the hoses and we ran through, back and forth, and each time we did it, it got muddier and more slippery-but it was fun," he said.
Folau added, "This was my favorite scene-running around the storm with Chris-trying to trip him and get him as muddy as I could. We were setting up booby traps on our path, trying to catch each other . You can't tell when you see the film-but we had a ball."
Producer Gerald R. Molen, whose credits include such films as Schindler's List and Jurassic Park, indicated that the scene was "probably the most difficult because of the resources. The wind machines- trying to get enough water up to create the rain that we needed-and then just the logistics of making that work."
After hours of preparation for the final shot of the sequence, there was some confusion among the cast and crewmembers about the meaning of the hand signals and radio beeps used to indicate that the camera was rolling. As Davis waved to a rain tower technician, one cast member mistook it as the sign to begin the scene.
"The actor (Gorham) took it as his cue to start running . . . so when he ran across the set everyone else took that as their cue to set off the special effects," the director said. "So I remember just standing there as I watched one hut get blown away and another hut pulled over as the actors ran towards a camera that wasn't rolling. It was one of those moments when you just wonder, 'what happened?'"
Gorham said of the incident, "I wasn't wearing my contact lenses at the time, and everything was blurry. We were standing about 60 yards away from the camera and director, and the rain turned on and fans were blowing dirt and debris and pelting us with things, and I'm peering through all of this, trying to see when they're giving us the action signal. So I see this red shirt jumping up and down and waving and I figure OK, that's it. I start running with the little girl in my arms and Joe's running behind me, and the tin shed goes flying, the fale falls down, and I get over there and say, 'Did we get it?' and everyone was in complete silence. . .the shot was useless and they didn't get any of it on camera. The day was over so we had to go back the next morning and re-shoot it."
Although creating the hurricane was exciting and even amusing for some of the cast and crew, Elder Groberg had a different outlook on the actual event.
"I don't think anyone can appreciate the force of a hurricane on a small island unless they've been there," he said "the devastation is total."
"It was a long, terrifying afternoon and night. When you are closer to nature and not so protected by concrete buildings or prepared ahead by forecasts, you feel things in a different way. I can better understand the prophecy from the Book of Mormon telling of the storms at the time of Christ's crucifixion, 'Many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the spirit of God to exclaim: The God of nature suffers' (1 Nephi 19:12). That's just how it felt."2
"I guess I could say it was one of the scariest experiences of my life, but not necessarily in the sense that I was going to die-- but scary in the sense of seeing nature run wild. Just everything, everything gone. It didn't matter how much the people had worked or prepared."
Elder Groberg added that the greatest impact the experience had on him wasn't necessarily from the storm itself, but from the "magnificence of the character of the Tongan people as they faced what could have been their total demise."
The strength of their character is portrayed in a touching scene in the film. As the people woefully survey their demolished homes and destroyed cropland, they come together in gratitude as the minister leads them in prayer.
"We are thankful so many of us have survived this great storm," says the minister. "Father, we know this storm rages on elsewhere, and we pray for those in its path . . . Please care for them as you have cared for us. Amen."
The Other Side of Heaven, a new feature film by Mitch Davis, will debut in select theaters on December 14th. Check local listings in your area.
Elder John H. Groberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will use clips of an upcoming film depicting his mission to Tonga to illustrate the process of eternal progression at the Tuesday, Dec. 4 Devotional in the Marriott Center at 11 a.m.
Elder Groberg, a 1958 BYU graduate, said he hopes segments of the film, "The Other Side of Heaven," will demonstrate how the Lord assists people once they have done all they can.
"If we really want to do right and we're stuck, then he'll come in and help us," he said.
The Devotional will not be broadcast live or rebroadcast.
Elder Groberg said his mission to Tonga from 1954 to 1957 was not more special than anyone else's, but he hopes that by sharing his experience, others will be able to gain insight into how they can learn life's lessons.
"I'm not trying to emphasize the mission so much as I'm trying to emphasize the principles that you can learn there from," he said.
The movie, to be released in select theaters Dec. 14 and nationwide Dec. 21, is targeted to the general public.
"This is not a movie made by Mormons for Mormons," said director Mitch Davis. "It's a movie made by a predominantly non-Mormon cast and crew about a Mormon for the world."
Elder Groberg said there are good people everywhere who believe in God, people with good values who are wondering what is right. His hope is that the movie will increase their faith in God and their desire to follow him.
"I hope it increases their sense of humanity, that we're all brothers and sisters and there is a connection between heaven and earth," he said. "Instead of hurting one another, we really ought to be helping one another -- we're all children of God."
Davis said all of the test screenings for the movie were with strictly non-LDS audiences because they wanted to ensure the movie appealed to a wide spectrum of people.
"The fact is, non-Mormons seem to be actually more impacted by our movie than Mormons are," Davis said. "For non-Mormons, it's nothing short of amazing that anyone would do anything so selfless at that age."
One of the more surprising reactions Davis has received came after a sneak preview a few months ago. He said a young man grabbed him and said seeing the movie made him want to join the church just so he could go on a mission.
"I assured him we could arrange that," Davis said.
Presenting the world with a look into any culture is a delicate procedure, but Elder Groberg said he hopes people will see the church for what it really is and want to investigate further.
"I think the main benefit is it's a fulfillment of prophecy that we're to come out of obscurity and the facts are that the world sees things in these mediums now," he said. "These will never substitute for the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of the Lord, but it puts people in contact that they just wouldn't have otherwise."
A former bishop, Davis said he realizes that there are certain aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ that should not be depicted in movies because they are too sacred. He said the movie builds on the amazing amount of common ground that exists between all of God's children, regardless of race, culture or creed.
"You don't hear the word Mormon until you're an hour into the movie," he said. "The movie does stress the things we have in common with everyone and does not overemphasize the few ways we are different."
Davis said the biggest problem he faced in the development of the movie was finding a way to convey as much of Elder Groberg's book, "The Eye of the Storm" which the movie is based on, into the confines of a 110-page script.
"Rather than eliminating a lot of beautiful characters and events, we decided to combine them into composite characters and events," he said. "There are actually very few fictional flourishes in the film."
Davis said he spent several hours interviewing Elder Groberg when writing the script, during which time he provided additional insights and incidents not found in his book.
Elder Groberg said he was not overly involved with the actual making of the movie, but he did fly to the set, the Cook Islands and New Zealand, to see how things were going.
"We were amazed at the huge process it is to make a film," he said. "We did not change a single thing, we just observed."
Davis was able to convince Elder Groberg and his wife, Jean, to be extras during the wedding scene.
Elder Groberg said he was promised the movie would remain true to the spirit of the book and he thinks Davis did a good job of that.
"It's very true to the way Jean and I felt, and the way things actually happened," Elder Groberg said.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The missionary memoirs of Elder John H. Groberg, found in his popular book "In the Eye of the Storm," can now be enjoyed in paperback as "The Other Side of Heaven."
"In the Eye of the Storm" has been re-titled "The Other Side of Heaven" for its paperback version available December 10th th coincide with the theatrical release, December 14 locally and December 21 nationally, of the major motion picture based on Elder Groberg's book. The cover art of the paperback release will match the promotional movie poster.
This first-person account tells such stories as: The emergency night voyage on a turbulent sea, and the anxious search for the only guiding light into the destination harbor. The boy whose apparently lifeless body was handed to the missionaries with the words, "Here, make him well again -- you have the power." The storm that overturned the boat, throwing the missionaries into the raging sea. The hurricane that hit the little island. The hunger when the usual supply boat failed to show up. And so much more.
This account tells the fascinating story of the three years he spent on the islands in the South Pacific amidst a kindly people who had a deep faith in God, a faith that provides a backdrop for Elder Groberg's accounts of miraculous healings, protective warnings, and perilous voyages.
This remarkable book paints a vivid picture of missionary life in a society geared to "a different way of thinking." But it is far from being solely a collection of stories. To the experiences it recounts, the author has added observations on the scenes and circumstances that in an inspiring way bring out the gospel principles involved. Given this combination, the total effect of the book is that from the time reader's are introduced to this young missionary through his journey to Tonga they will be engrossed in his story until the end.
Elder John H. Groberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy illustrated spiritual truths by showing clips from a movie depicting his experiences as a young missionary in the Tongan Islands.
Elder Groberg told students about a pattern that if consistently followed would allow them to develop a deeper love for the Savior.
Learn the truth, promise to live the truth, and then live the truth and trust the Lord will help when you have done all you can, Elder Groberg said.
Elder Groberg encouraged students to think about how this pattern was depicted in movie clips from "The Other Side of Heaven."
"The clips of the movie illustrated the close relationship we can have with God," said Bryce Craven, 23, a junior from Salt Lake City, majoring in business market management.
One movie clip depicted young Elder Groberg sailing to a neighboring island.
While sailing to a neighboring Tongan island, the winds died.
Finally, a faithful Tongan branch president asked the group on the stranded sailboat to pray for wind to take them to a family waiting to hear the gospel from Elder Groberg.
When the group finished praying the branch president stepped into a small rowboat and instructed Elder Groberg to follow him.
The branch president started rowing the small boat to the distant island.
"I didn't decide to serve the Lord until I was old and tired...You are young and already give your life to him," the branch president said in the movie. "I cannot be young again but today I can be the Lord's wind."
Elder Groberg said that even though the Tongan branch president did not serve the Lord in his youth he changed because he learned the truth, promised to live the truth by repenting of his sins and then trusted the Lord to help him fulfill his service.
"It simplifies how we are supposed to be," said Mary Crozier, 19, a freshman from Iberia, Mo., with an open major.
While the movie will bring more recognition to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Groberg said he and his wife have not sought after acclaim.
"It was not our dream to be on the silver screen, it may be some people's dream but it certainly was not ours," Elder Groberg said.
Elder Groberg said that while most of the events portrayed in the movie are accurate, some, like the opening dancing scene, have been embellished.
To add to the accuracy, Sister Groberg gave the director, Mitch Davis, original copies of some of the letters she and Elder Groberg wrote.
Elder Groberg, his wife, Jean, as well as Davis spoke at the Devotional.
Afterwards Elder Groberg showed an additional movie clip and answered students' questions about his life, his book and the movie.
"The Other Side of Heaven" will be released in movie theaters Dec. 14.
Excel Entertainment Group proudly announces the theatrical release of
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN
>From the Academy Award-winning producer of SCHINDLER'S LIST and JURASSIC PARK, comes THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN - a movie that captures the essence of a beautiful time and a beautiful people in a true adventure story that explores the heart of what makes life worth living. See the movie based on the real-life experiences of Elder John H. Groberg as chronicled in his book, "In the Eye of the Storm."
John Groberg (played by CHRISTOPHER GORHAM of A LIFE LESS ORDINARY), a farm kid from Idaho, crosses an ocean as a missionary to the remote and exotic Kingdom of Tonga during the 1950's. He leaves behind a loving family and the true love of his life, Jean Sabin (played by ANNE HATHAWAY of THE PRINCESS DIARIES). John must struggle to overcome language barriers, physical hardship and deep-rooted suspicion to earn the trust and love of the Tongan people he has come to serve. John Groberg's Tongan odyssey will change his life forever.
Be one of the first to see the film that made Larry King say, "This movie is just what America needs. I loved it!" Michael Medved raves that THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN is "skillfully crafted, heart-felt and all-together refreshing."
Stop by http://www.othersideofheaven.com today to view the theatrical trailer and read the early reviews!
THE ADVENTURE COMES TO THEATERS IN UTAH ON DECEMBER 14
COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN is rated PG by the MPAA.