Latter-day Saint Characters in Media  |  LDS Characters  |  Mormon Characters
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Documentaries about
Latter-day Saints / Mormons
and Bibliography

Mainstream LDS Documentaries:
Some Documentaries Shown in Theaters and Film Festivals,
Made Primarily by Non-LDS Filmmakers about LDS Subjects and Characters

"Mainstream" may be something of a misnomer here. Documentaries have a somewhat more specialized audience than big-budget fictional films from Hollywood studios. All that is really meant by the word is that these documentaries were not made primarily for a Latter-day Saint audience. These documentaries were shown in predominantly non-LDS venues such as film festivals and public broadcasting stations.

One Hundred Years of Mormonism (1913)
The first feature-length documentary ever made, and the sixth feature-length film made in the United States. Norval MacGregor's documentary about the history or Mormonism featured Frank Young playing the part of his grandfather Brigham Young. Independently made and objective, this nationally shown film was warmly received by Latter-day Saints and Church leaders. Details.

Eldridge Cleaver (1970)
Directed by William Klein. 75 min. Film format: 35mm. Language: French. Film made in France and Algeria. English dubbed version distributed in the U.S. by Cinema 5 Distributing. Released in the U.S. as "Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther." U.S. premiere: 24 August 1970 in New York City. TV premiere was on 24 July 1971 in West Germany. Documentary features both Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver.

The Eldridge Cleaver Story (1980)
Documentary made and first screened while Cleaver was still an investigator studying with Elder Paul H. Dunn, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, prior to when Cleaver joined the Church. A Sunstone news article reporting on a screening of the film (Issue 26, March-April 1981, page 8) reported that it recounts Cleaver's "early life in prison for various crimes, his involvement with the Black Panthers, including a shootout with Oakland police in 1968 during which Panther founder Bobby Hutton was killed, and his flight from the country when charged with attempted murder and assault. As a fugitive he lived in Cuba, Algeria, and France and made trips to North Korea and North Vietnam. The film also described Cleaver's conversion to Christ [after] he became increasingly disillusioned with Marxism and came to feel there was 'no light or direction or purpose' in his life... For the past five years Cleaver has been traveling and sharing Christ through the 'Eldridge Cleaver Crusades.'" [Cleaver also appears prominently in a number of other documentaries, including: All Power to the People (1996); Malcolm X (1972); One P.M. (1972); Eldridge Cleaver (1970); Black Panther (1969).]

The Four Corners (1984)
Academy Award-winning documentary about the hidden cost of energy development in the homeland of Hopi, Navajo, and Latter-day Saint cultures.

Sherman's March (1986)
Odd documentary by Ross McElwee, who set out to make a documentary about the famous march of Sherman's troops through the South at the end of the Civil War, and instead filmed a personal account of various women he encounters along the way, including a Latter-day Saint woman searching for a mate who is a man of God.

The Mormons: Missionaries to the World (1987)
PBS documentary made by non-LDS filmmaker Bobbie Birleffi. Funded by KCTS, the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) affiliate in Seattle, Washington. Premiered nationally on 13 May 1987. The Church and Church leaders cooperated with the filmmaker and granted interviews, but had no control over the finished film. Church leaders interviewed for the documentary include apostles Elder Boyd K. Packer and M. Russell Ballard, Jr. Before the film aired, a letter from Howard W. Hunter, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was read in all U.S. wards. The letter acknowledged that the Church cooperated with the film's production but distanced the institution from the final product. The Church officially took issue with the finished film and pointed out factual errors, but these factual errors appear to have mainly been in the printed promotional literature about the film, and not in the film itself. From an academic and historical perspective, the biggest problem with the documentary was that it focused attention on negative missionary experiences, far out of proportion to their actual frequency among LDS missions. Daniel C. Peterson called "The Mormons: Missionaries to the World": "the most one-sidedly negative documentary that I have ever watched on public television" (FARMS Review of Books, Vol.: 4, Issue: 1, 1992). The principal financial underwriter of the documentary was George D. Smith, a wealthy northern California businessman who bankrolls Signature Books. George D. Smith is widely regarded as an anti-Mormon and a major source of funding for anti-Mormon publications and research, but Smith does not accept the label and says "I don't admit to being anti-anything." The National Conference of Christians and Jews criticized the film, saying it asserted that Latter-day Saints have a "disregard for other religious traditions," a criticism that the filmmaker said is inaccurate and unfounded. Addressing criticism levied against the documentary, the filmmaker told a Sunstone interviewer that a group of Latter-day Saint bishops contacted the sponsoring PBS station to say they liked the documentary. The filmmaker also noted that many anti-Mormon viewers thought that the documentary was "pro-Mormon propaganda." The independent filmmaker said that she tried to make as balanced and accurate a film as possible.

The Plan (1989)
This video portrays the everyday life of Utah's "Young Mother of the Year" for 1978. In a fast-paced, cinema-verite style, the video observes the Mormon mother's attempt to organize and subdue the chaos that surrounds her in the form of five young children and a husband. It follows her through the rigors of her day, taking care of her children and reflecting on her life, obligations and spiritual destiny. Directed by Diane Orr and C. Larry Roberts. 54 mins.

Deseret (1995)
Renowned experimental filmmaker James Benning "examines the beautiful Utah landscape, and the Mormon culture that has penetrated and been shaped by that landscape."

The West (1996)
Produced by Ken Burns. Directed by Stephen Ives. Written by Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward. Narrated by Peter Coyote, with additional voice work by Matthew Broderick, Ossie Davis, Jason Robards, Gary Sinise, and Jimmy Smits. This PBS documentary miniseries was aired in separate segments and is available as separate volumes, but it can also be appreciated as one monumental 12-hour documentary film. Produced by leading American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The West" covers the history of the American West from the Native American tribes to their encounter with Europeans and how the Europeans conquered them and settled the land. The viewpoints of American Indians, white Americans, and various minorities are all considered, giving the film striking balance and historical resonance. The Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") pioneers who settled so much of the Western United States are featured prominently. Brigham Young is one of the important historical figures covered along with Lewis and Clark, Kit Carson, Levi Strauss, Mark Twain, Custer, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, Benjamin Singleton, Theodore Roosevelt, Frank Hamilton Cushing, William F. Cody and others. Other important Latter-day Saints and topics covered by "The West" include: Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, leading women's suffragist Emmeline Wells, The Woman's Exponent, John Doyle Lee, Mountain Meadows, David King Udall, the Edmunds-Tucker Act, the Mormon Trail, Samuel Brannan, the Perpetual Emigrating Company, the Cullom-Strubble Bill, Wilford Woodruff. Contemporary Latter-day Saints interviewed as part of the documentary include Terry Tempest Williams and Stewart Udall.

Life Was Good (1996)
Documentary by Academy Award-winning director Steven Okazaki. About a Latter-day Saint family that lived next to the federal government's Nevada Test Site, and consequently suffered from the government's nuclear testing program.

Secret Daughter (1996)
150 minutes. Autobiographical PBS documentary for "Frontline," made by "Frontline" producer June Cross. In this emotionally gripping program, Cross traces her childhood and family background. Her mother was Norma Greve, a Latter-day Saint woman from Pocatello, Idaho. Cross's father, who was not LDS, was Jimmy Cross, a black song-and-dance man who was "Stump" in the well-known performing team "Stump and Stumpy." Jimmy Cross was a major influence on white comedians of his time, including Jerry Lewis. Soon after June was born in 1954. Norma took the baby and fled from Jimmy Cross in 1957 because of his drinking, drug use and violence toward her. One time June's father Jimmy Cross attacked both her and her mother; June's mother shielded her from being struck, but Jimmy knocked Norma's teeth out. As June matured and her complexion darkened, she and her mother encountered racist reactions from their Manhattan, New York neighbors, including a petition from residents in their apartment building demanding that they leave. Norma was worried that being raised in all-white world by would ruin June's sense of identity. Norma asked friends of hers - a middle-class black couple in Atlantic City, New Jersey - to raise June. After giving up her daughter, Norma cried every night and wrote daily letters to the girl. June returned to live with Norma during the Summers. When June was 7 year old, her mother married famed actor/comedian Larry Storch, star of the TV series "F Troop" (as "Randolph Agarn"). June's mother began using the name she would be known by the rest of her life: "Norma Storch." Norma and Larry Storch told everybody that June was their "adopted daughter," who lived most of the year with an African-American family. The documentary chronicles all of this and also features June Cross's visit to her Latter-day Saint relatives in Idaho. Church policies restricting blacks from holding the priesthood prior to 1978 are specifically discussed. June admits in the documentary that she previously was very prejudiced against Mormons, but that her feelings softened considerably after encountering the kindness and sincerity of her Latter-day Saint relatives. June says she had felt bitterness about racism from Latter-day Saints, although the documentary points out that she wasn't raised around Church members and most of the racism she and her family encountered growing up in the 1950s and 1960s was from people in New York City, Los Angeles and Hollywood.

The Man Who Forged America (2003)
Directed by Matthew Thompson. BBC documentary about Mark Hoffmann, widely regarded as the greatest forger of the 20th century. Hoffman taught himself advanced forgery techniques while still a young man. He led a double life, even serving a full-time mission for the Church despite the fact that he was an atheist who hated and desired to harm the Church. Hoffman attempted to undermine both Mormon history specifically and American history in general through an elaborate series of forgeries of seemingly significant documents that he introduced to collectors and museums as authentic documents. Many of the documents Hoffman created were about the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its founder, Joseph Smith. Other documents included "The Oath of a Freeman" (which Hoffman claimed was the first document printed on Colonial America's first printing press) and new poetry he passed off as "lost" writing by Emily Dickinson. Hoffman also passed off documents attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Daniel Boone and hundreds of other historical figures. Hoffman fooled the nation's leading document experts as well as FBI and CIA investigators. The documentary points out that LDS Church officials temporarily believed that Hoffman's forgeries were authentic, but in doing so they were simply believing what the experts and leading scholars said. On 15 October 1985, Hoffman murdered two people, hoping to eliminate people who might expose him, hoping to thwart investigators from discovering his previous crimes. This film explores the complex motivations behind Hoffman's forgery campaign and the pressures that drove him to commit murder.

Five Rings in Zion (2003)
Screened at the New York Film and Video Festival. 55 minutes. Directed by Jeff Allworth. Description: The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City were widely regarded as among the most successful ever staged. But the gaze of the world's cameras failed to capture a rift that the Games brought into sharp focus: an ongoing battle about the role of the city's dominant institution - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Get the Fire! Young Mormon Missionaries Abroad (2003)
PBS documentary focusing on missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called to serve in Germany. Many viewers considered this film to be anti-Mormon propaganda, because rather than focusing on typical missionaries, the focus was on a few who eventually abandoned the Church.

Burying the Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (2004)
Written and directed by University of Utah film instructor Brian F. Patrick. Est. budget: $20,000.

Searching Faith (2004)
Short documentary by high school student Erika Cohn. Created as part of the "Sundance in the Community" program in conjunction with Spy Hop. The film is a portrait of an inter-faith family through the eyes of a young woman living in the predominately Mormon Salt Lake City.

Waiting for NESARA (2004)
Directed by Zeb Haradon. Production budget: $10,000. Profile of The Open Mind Forum, a messianic group of Salt Lake City Latter-day Saints who have left the mainstream Church and are instead united by a radical new belief. They believe a miraculous secret law known as NESARA will abolish the IRS, remove George Bush from office, expose him as a reptilian alien, distribute millions to the worthy few, and install a UFO-flying Jesus Christ as America's new leader.

The New Americans (2004)
7-hour documentary that debuted on PBS, presented over the course of 3 nights as a miniseries. Steve James (director of "Hoop Dreams") was the executive producer of "The New Americans," and was the director of the Nigerian segment. Gordon Quinn was the other executive producer of the project. Filmed by five different directors with five film crews, "The New Americans" can be seen as five separate documentaries abut contemporary immigrants coming to and adjusting to life in America. Segments focus on immigrants from Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, India, Palestine and Mexico. But the stories are woven together to form a single documentary film. Although focuses on lives of separate individuals who come from different countries and settle in different parts of America, the comparable stages of the immigrants' journeys are presented together. For example, the first episode shows the immigrants in their home countries prior to coming to America. The Dominican segment focuses on Ricardo Rodriguez and Jose Garcia (José Garcia), two highly prized baseball prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. They end up playing minor league baseball in Great Falls, Montana, where Garcia falls in love with a Latter-day Saint and converts to Mormonism. His surprised Dominican teammates chide him: "I recently heard that Mormons can't bat."

Speak Out: I Had an Abortion (2004)
Documentary-style message film conceived and produced by Jennifer Baumgardner as part of a nationwide campaign to "take the stigma out of abortion." Baumgardner brought in Gillian Aldrich as co-producer and director of the film. Aldrich has worked with Michael Moore on several projects, including as a field producer for the documentary "Bowling for Columbine." As part of her campaign, Baumgardner also designed "I Had an Abortion" T-shirts, which she markets through Planned Parenthood. The film interviews women who had abortions between 1938 and 2003. The interviews, presented in chronological order, present a women from a broad spectrum of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Each woman tells about her family, relationships, goals and reproductive history, including her decision to have an abortion (i.e., have her own baby killed). Pro-abortion writer Karen Rosenberg (AlterNet, 15 March 2005; URL: described the film's interview with a lapsed Latter-day Saint, Jenny Egan: "Jenny grew up in a Mormon family, the middle of five children. She described herself as 'the daughter of a teenage mother who was the daughter of a teenage mother' and when she got pregnant after her boyfriend pressured her into sex, she decided to have an abortion. The trauma came when a letter from 'The Brotherhood' informed her parents of her decision. A tremendous family fight ensued which pushed Jenny away from her family and her community." Utah has the lowest abortion rate in the nation, and it is extremely rare for any Latter-day Saint to have an abortion, so it is not surprising that Jenny felt isolated from her community after the truth came out. The film "Speak Out: I Had an Abortion" was shown at "special event" gatherings sponsored by pro-abortion groups and "women's groups" around the country. Jenny Egan, identifying herself as an abortion rights activist and a writer, toured with the film, participating in panel discussions alongside the film's creators Jennifer Baumgardner and Gillian Aldrich.

8 Lives, One Mission (2005)
First documentary made by Scarlett Shepard, a 31-year-old student in the film program at San Francisco State University. Shepard, a non-LDS native of the Bay Area, founded the SFSU Women's Film Festival in 2005 after she felt there was essentially no representation of women filmmakers in SFSU's curriculum. The opening title credits of "8 Lives, One Mission" identify its subject: "Northern California Mormon Missionaries." On the official website for the film, Shepard described her film: "When I came upon these men and women it was as though they were born to serve God with their crisp white shirts adorned with name-tags and bicycles in tow offering a hand and a warm smile. As I got to know these captivating women and men of the Mormon faith I learned that they left their homes, jobs, family, loved ones and daily routines to commit two years to spread the message of hope and faith throughout the community. They can call home only on Christmas Day and Mother's Day. They cannot see movies or watch TV, and can only listen to religious music or read religious books. If they disobey any rule or teaching of the church it can cost them their place in the kingdom, or in some cases, their life."

LDS/GLBT Documentaries
(Made Primarily by Non-LDS Filmmakers)

Documentaries made about LDS/GLBT topics (i.e., GLBT Latter-day Saints, gay Mormons, lesbian Mormons, etc.) are so numerous that we have listed them in their own section below.

Generally speaking, it would be inaccurate to refer to these films as "mainstream." It is true that these films were not made primarily for a Latter-day Saint audience, and they were made primarily by non-LDS filmmakers. But documentaries, regardless of their subject matter, have a somewhat more specialized audience than big-budget fictional films from Hollywood studios, and so they already constitute a non-mainstream film genre. Furthermore, most of these GLBT/LDS documentaries have been seen very little outside of GLBT-specific film festivals and venues. The GLBT population in the U.S. is no larger than the LDS population in the U.S., and most GLBTs do not go to GLBT film festivals, so viewership of these films is relatively small. Only a few of these films have been seen more broadly by "mainstream" audiences, such as on PBS or cable stations, i.e., MTV's "True Life: I'm Coming Out."

Uncle Lino (2006?)
Documentary in progress, being made by GLBT filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka about his famous uncle, Lino Brocka. Lino Brocka is the most famous and acclaimed filmmaker in Filipino history. He was also the first Filipino convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After serving a full-time mission for the Church in Hawaii and briefly attending BYU-Hawaii, Lino Brocka returned to the Philippines and began his unparalleled film career. Brocka left Church activity not long after his mission, but deep Latter-day Saint values are in evidence throughout his film career, which was controversial and often R-rated, but also marked by concern for ethics and social justice. Although Brocka was not widely known as a GLBT person during his career, and his classification as such, his nephew's documentary will probably focus at least in part on GLBT aspects of Lino Brocka's life. Brocka did indeed make GLBT-themed films during his career, but it would be reductionist to label him simply a "GLBT filmmaker."

Straight Acting (2005)
Written and directed by Spencer Windes. Documentary. 57 minutes. Est. budget: $100,000. Plot summary (from "Straight Acting the story of one man's journey from a closeted Mormon missionary into an openly gay athlete. Through filmmaker Spencer Windes' involvement in the subculture of gays who play contact sports - rugby, ice hockey and rodeo - he discovered that gay or straight, all men need to play." Filmed in: Austin, Texas; London, England, UK; New York City, New York; Southern California, California. Website:

Nick Name & the Normals (2004)
Documentary made by Howie Skora about a devout Latter-day Saint and returned missionary named Kent James who launched a successful country music career and then embraced a GLBT lifestyle, moved to San Francisco, and transformed himself into the shave-headed, anger-driven gay punk rocker "Nick Name" (75 min.)

Troy Through a Window (2003)
Highly personal documentary made by LDS filmmaker Brad Barber about the coming out of his GLBT brother Troy, and the impact this had on their family

Voices in Exile: Stories of Lesbian Mormons (2003)
Produced by Susan Randall, Assistant Director of Boise State's University Television Productions. Explores the issues that Latter-day Saint women face when they express and act upon romantic feelings for other women. Most of the eight participants are from Eastern Idaho, a predominantly LDS area. First screened in Salt Lake City in October 2003 at a Family Fellowship Forum.

True Life: I'm Coming Out (2002)
MTV (cable TV) documentary profiles 4 young GLBT, including Jayce Cox, a Latter-day Saint

The Smith Family: A Portrait in Love (2002)
PBS documentary which has won awards and acclaim at film festivals nationwide, made by Latter-day Saint filmmaker Tasha Oldham; presents story of a Latter-day Saint man whose promiscuous GLBT lifestyle results in his dying of AIDS; his Latter-day Saint wife and family stand by him until his death

Family Fundamentals (2002)
Arthur Dong's GLBT documentary, which premiered at Sundance, includes 3 profiles, one about Brett Mathews and his father, an LDS bishop in Tooele, Utah

Destiny's Children (2001)
Directed by Kevin O'Keefe of Canada. 13 minutes. GLBT documentary. Description: The story of David McKinstry's quest to be a father. Raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, David was excommunicated for his GLBT lifestyle. But he still held on to the Latter-day Saint belief that he was meant to be a dad, and somewhere there were children for him. After 17 years of adoption agency rejections, government screw-ups, a life-threatening illness and the loss of his first partner, David finally met his destiny when he adopted two children: a street kid from India and a boy whose mother died of AIDS. Juried First Prize Winner in the Documentary category at Second Annual Short Movie Awards.

Our House: A Very Real Documentary About Kids of Gay & Lesbian Parents (2000)
GLBT documentary profiles a Latter-day Saint family in Arizona.

Fred: The Movie (2000)
[Note: this is not a documentary about LDS GLBTs. It is about Phelps, who attacks both LDS and GLBT people.] Also titled "Hatemongers." Written and directed by Steve Drain. Running time: USA: 102 min. (re-release); previous version: 90 min. Documentary about Fred Phelps, the Evangelical Protestant/Baptist preacher known for his virulently anti-Mormon and anti-gay campaigns, including marches at the funerals of AIDS victims and headline-grabbing hate-based attacks against Latter-day Saints and GLBTs across the nation. This documentary focuses on the anti-GLBT phase of his career, but also includes archival footage and discussion of his anti-Mormon campaigns. The documentary shows how despite all the national attention he has received, this aging preacher's active following consists mainly of his wife, nine of their children, and his fifty-two grandchildren. They conducted "love crusades" across America, which include calling for gays to be killed, praising terrorist attacks, mocking mourners at the funerals of AIDS patients and murder victims, and literally dancing and spitting on the graves of his enemies. Phelps is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. This film was banned in Canada and Sweden on the grounds that it violated hate crime laws. The re-release of the film includes new footage of Fred Phelps and his congregants mocking World Trade Center survivors and victims' families during rescue efforts and memorial services. "Fred The Movie" was screened at a number of film festivals, including the Anchorage Film Festival, the Washington DC Indie Fest and the Hollywood Underground Film Festival. The intent of the filmmaker is to accurately convey the mission and message of Fred Phelps, and not to criticize the message. Those who have seen it have called it very fair and balanced. More about Phelps.

Legacies (1996)
Directed Sean Weakland. 30 minutes. Documentary in which gay four men tell of their personal experiences as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and students at BYU, and the attempts made by the Church to change their sexual orientation through aversion therapy.

Straight from the Heart (1994)
Academy Award-nominated documentary directed by Dee Mosbacher. Examines the issues parents face when a child becomes gay or lesbian. Tells of multiple true stories, including the Latter-day Saint family whose son is believed to be the first gay man in Idaho to have died from AIDS.

Historical Latter-day Saints Featured as Characters in Films:
Selected Print Bibliography

Are Latter-day Saints stereotyped in movies? Sometimes they are, especially in fictional films written by mediocre screenwriters. But the lives of the real-life Mormons depicted in movies really shatter the stereotypes. Individuals listed here include a famous train robber, a black civil rights leader, a fugitive folk hero, a gas station attendant, a General Authority, a megasavant, a prophet, and an FBI agent. (Now, obviously robbing trains is not a good thing, but it's hard to dislike a character played so memorably by Paul Newman.)

Maude Adams - Somewhere in Time (1980)

Butch Cassidy - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Eldridge Cleaver - Panther (1995)

D. B. Cooper - The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981)

Melvin Dummar - Melvin and Howard (1980)

John H. Groberg - The Other Side of Heaven (2001)

Juliet Hulme - Heavenly Creatures (1995)

Kim Peek - Rain Man (1988)

Brigham Young - Brigham Young: Frontiersman (1940); Brigham (1977); Handcart (2002)

Donnie Brasco's supervisor in the FBI - Donnie Brasco (1997)

Web page separated onto its own page on 4 February 2005. Last modified 23 September 2005.