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What remains to do in the “Witnesses” project?

What remains to do in the “Witnesses” project? June 20, 2021

 

The only Western witness
My wife took this slightly askew photograph on Friday, at the grave of Martin Harris near Clarkston, Utah, in Cache Valley

 

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Well, the Interpreter Foundation’s Witnesses film is now out there in theaters.  It’s an interesting period to premiere a new indie film, as we’re still suffering the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of church meetings and other public gatherings, including movie screenings.  That throws a wild card into the game and we shall see how things go.  We’re getting — so far as I can tell — absolutely excellent word of mouth for the film, but the Latter-day Saint movie audience is relatively small, and it was always obvious that Latter-day Saints would be the overwhelming primary target for Witnesses and would constitute its core market.

 

I anticipate that we’ll be losing theaters now.  But we’ll also be gaining some.  We’ll be going into the market in Boston this week, for example.  And we’re still working toward Canada.  And there will be others.  (Please remember, if the Witnesses film isn’t yet in your area, to go to witnessesfilm.com and request it.  Doing so is still helpful to our distributor.  It helps to convince theater owners that there might be an audience.  And, as the Salt Lake Tribune’s movie critic observed, Witnesses offers “drama worth watching on a movie screen.”)

 

Many have asked whether Witnesses will ever be available via streaming and/or DVD.  The answer is yes.  We’ll wait until after its theatrical run, of course.  We don’t want to interfere with that or to damage the income of the theaters showing it.  But I’m guessing that we’ll have it available in the form of DVDs and by means of one or more streaming platforms by around late September or early October.  Don’t hold me to that, but I think that I won’t be far wrong if I’m wrong at all.

 

So is that it?

 

No.  Not by a long shot.

 

We’re currently completing work on a two-part documentary or docudrama, Undaunted: Witnessses of the Book of Mormon, that will probably be ready to go at about the same time that the original Witnesses dramatic film goes to DVD and streaming.  It will total about two or perhaps two and a half hours in length.  We had our first conversation last week with a representative of Deseret Book and Excel Entertainment about how best to distribute it.

 

Unlike Witnesses, which is already complex enough with its interwoven story of four protagonists — Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer — the docudrama will extend our coverage to the Eight Witnesses and to the informal or unofficial witnesses (e.g., Mary Musselman Whitmer and Josiah Stowell).  And it will also feature interviews with scholars, both Latter-day Saint and non-LDS, and others to shed light on the events covered in the theatrical movie and connected with the testimonies of the Witnesses more generally.

 

But neither does the documentary film exhaust what we’re up to.

 

In conjunction with the movie projects, the Interpreter Foundation has also taken the lead in creating a website called Witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  Our intention is that this website will remain useful long after the prime theatrical life of the dramatic film and even after the docudrama has had its major flurry of attention.  My personal hope would be to make it, among other things (including links to the best scholarly and popular discussions of the topic), a repository for all of the extant expressions of the witnesses’ testimonies.  There are far more of these than many Latter-day Saints and most critics of the Latter-day Saints realize.  I’m continually surprised at how many people I encounter who think of the two official statements in the front of modern copies of the Book of Mormon as the only documents about the witnesses’ experiences with the angel and the plates and so forth that have been left behind.  But that is far from the truth.  And I think that most users of the website will be positively impressed by the length of time over which the witnesses bore their testimonies and by the consistency with which they did so.

 

As another component of the overall effort, we are about to begin the creation of short 3-5-minute features that we have called “snippets.”  (If you have a better title for them, I would welcome it.)  We don’t know yet how many of these there will be.  The idea is to treat specific issues that are raised by the witnesses, using footage from both the theatrical film and the docudrama and filmed material that made it into neither, accompanied by interviews and commentary.  At this very moment, we’re putting together a list of the issues that we would like to address, or that we feel need to be addressed — such as (just throwing some possibilities out for now) whether the witnesses only claimed to see the plates in their imaginations or with their “spiritual eyes,” how heavy the plates were and whether Joseph could really have run through the woods with them, whether Martin Harris was religiously unstable, and so forth.  These short features or “snippets” will then be made available as widely across the internet as we can spread them, at no charge.

 

If you have any suggestions of issues that you feel should be covered in our “snippets,” I would appreciate receiving them at daniel_peterson@byu.edu.  For various reasons, I can’t promise that we’ll actually address each suggested topic, but our goal is, quite genuinely, to address in some way, whether via one or more snippets or on the website, every substantive question or objection connected with the witnesses.  Please, if you write to me, put the word Snippets in the subject header.  That will make it easier for me to find them (or, perhaps more relevant in my personal case, harder for me to lose them).

 

We conceived of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon website and the “snippets” after we had created the budget for the theatrical film and the docudrama, so they’re “extras.”  Which means that we have had to raise additional money for them and, candidly, that we’re still raising money for them.  If you’re interested in supporting these parts of the overall effort, even small donations will make a substantial difference.  (Please specify “snippets” or “Witnesses website,” or something like that.  Or just make a general donation.) The number of snippets that we’ll eventually create will depend on two factors: the number of issues that we identify as requiring attention in a “snippet” or two, and the amount of funding that we’ll require to create those “snippets. ” (We’ve tentatively estimated the cost of each “snippet” as being somewhere in the vicinity of $5,000.)  I’m hoping that those two sides of the scale — the amount that we need to do the “snippets” and the number of “snippets” that we need to do — will be in balance with each other.

 

Finally, more than a few of those who have seen Witnesses have told us how much they loved its music, by The Lower Lights and by Sam Cardon, and have expressed interest in obtaining the soundtrack.  (I love the music, too.)  We had never intended to produce a soundtrack, but we’re now investigating possibilities for doing just that.  We’ll see.

 

 


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