I am not a Mormon, though I am a tremendous admirer of the burgeoning LDS film scene. This is an important fact, because Christian Vuissa's latest film, Joseph Smith - Volume 1: Plates of Gold,
is not actually made for me. Vuissa has made films that have attracted modest wide-release audiences (Baptists at Our Barbecue)
and he has made films that would serve well any fan of heartfelt faith-based cinema (One Good Man).
However, Vuissa, also founder of Utah's LDS Film Festival, is a devout Latter-Day Saint and Joseph Smith - Volume 1: Plates of Gold
is a film for those who can appreciate its faithfulness to history, to LDS teachings and his quest to make films that inform, educate, chronicle and, at least on some level, truly entertain. While I'm hesitant to call this film "entertaining" in any traditional sense, it's a beautifully constructed and authentically written historical wonder that will captivate LDS audiences and, for that matter, anyone who enjoys learning about religious history and spiritual formation.
Plates of Gold
is a chronicle of Joseph Smith's (Dustin Harding) early years leading up to the publication of the Book of Mormon and the founding of this new worldwide church. If there would be a recent cinematic comparison to the film, it would likely be Amazing Grace,
Michael Apted's marvelous telling of the story of William Wilberforce.
The film, in terms of drama, very much hinges upon the performance of lead Dustin Harding. Harding must be able to convey both humility and confidence, embodying Smith's intertwining sense of feeling unworthy of the task set before him while being so strong in his faith that he remained steadfast. In Hollywood, it is often tempting to cast in such a role someone who is big and bold and larger than life. Yet, Harding wisely exudes most strongly a sense of humility. Harding's Joseph Smith doesn't feel so much like a powerful man of God as he does a mean who leads by serving others in ways big and small.
Plates of Gold
is wondrously lensed with painstaking effort obviously taken to maintain faithfulness in terms of production design, costuming and period dialogue. Jimmy Schafer's original music serves as a perfect companion for the film, while Vuissa's ensemble cast remains consistent in tone and presence. It is abundantly clear that all who committed to this project were, indeed, committed to this not just being a film but also a historical archive.
Being distributed by Mirror Films, it is the hope of Vuissa and all involved with the film that Plates of Gold
will journey beyond a Utah audience into a national or international release in areas populated by the LDS community. As a native of Indiana who is aware that we are soon to receive our first Mormon Temple, it will be interesting to see if Plates of Gold
is released in the Hoosier state.
For more information on Joseph Smith - Volume 1: Plates of Gold,
visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic