Anyone who has ever set foot in Deseret Book should recognize the name Chris Heimerdinger. His signature novel, “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites,” was the first in what became a sizable collection of LDS fiction targeted primarily at a young Mormon market.
Now, he steps into the film making arena with his new feature film: “Passage to Zarahemla.” Chris uses his time-tested narrative device of modern characters converging in one way or another with scriptural settings and events to tell the story of Kerra and Brock, two young people who somehow collide with a parallel universe which brings them into contact with the ancient world of the Nephites, Lamanites, and Gadianton Robbers. This movie seems to find its place in an as-of-yet unfilled void in the LDS film collection, as explained by Sean P. Means of the Salt Lake Tribune:
“Chris Heimerdinger breaks Mormon Cinema’s green Jell-O mold in ‘Passage to Zarahemla,’ ambitiously transposing settings from the Book of Mormon into a stimulating action-adventure drama.”
As a treat for us at Mormon Matters, Chris Heimerdinger agreed to record an interview, in which he tells his story, takes us through his time and experiences as a novelist, describes some of the processes he went through in producing this film, and gives us his take on how it fits within the scope of LDS cinema and culture. Throughout the interview, several noteworthy points come through:
- Chris is a convert to the Church, he originally came to BYU on a scholarship for his accomplishments in film, and it was at BYU that he was introduced to the Book of Mormon, and eventually was baptized and served a mission.
- At age 17, he was the youngest person to attend Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute—back before Park City took over, and it was actually still at Sundance.
- Film making was his primary passion, but he figured he could build up to that by writing novels, an endeavor that turned out to bring a surprising amount of success.
- This success as a novelist proved to be one of the key factors in building trust in investors for the film.
- “Passage to Zarahemla” was published as a novel, but it was always intented to be film, and was written with that in mind.
- During the production of the film, Chris was somewhat of a Renaissance Man, acting as the film’s writer, director, producer, song-writer, and surely a long list of other roles.
- The film features many special effects, which were produced by a firm in Lindon, Utah, composed partially of break-offs from Dreamworks and Pixar.
- Upon release, the film faced three major challenges relating to its box office success:
- Distrust from the LDS viewing market: while we have seen some memorable and well-made LDS films, there have been plenty of films that could be classified as cheap, tacky, cheesy, and/or dumb, and as such, many bridges have already been burned, especially when it might come to a fantasy or adventure film.
- A PG-13 rating: the film is void of vulgarity, profanity, and sexuality, but the MPAA still slapped it with a PG-13 rating for its intense and frightening depiction of the Gaddianton robbers, who match the scriptual description; the Book of Mormon explains that “great and terrible was the appearance of the armies of Giddianhi, because of their armor, and because of their being dyed in blood.” (3 Nephi 7:4) For some LDS families, PG-13 spells “inappropriate,” and is often met with a good deal of resistance.
- A shift in the movie viewing habits of large LDS families with young kids: an increasing number of families that would fall under the target market of this film are avoiding theaters altogether, as home-theaters and private viewing settings become more common. This point, however, will likely translate into greater success in DVD sales.
- Several recognizable LDS media figures participated in the film’s production, notably composer Sam Cardon, who wrote the film’s score. His most recognizable works might be the music from “Work and the Glory,” and several IMAX films.
I have yet to see the movie, but my curiosity is peaked. I think I am among those who got a bit worn out from the lower quality LDS films, but I’m willing to give a fair chance to “Passage of Zarahemla.” User comments across the internet seem to indicate that many viewers went in with low expectations, but were pleasantly surprised.
I hope you can find some time to listen to the interview, and if you feel so inclined, see if the film is showing anywhere near you, and go check it out!
Here are some links related to the interview: