The Millennial Star is pleased to present the following guest post from Chris Heimerdinger. Chris is the author of the well know “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites” adventure series of books. He’s written a total of sixteen adult and young adult novels and has released a film, Passage to Zarahemla in October 2007.
Chris has five children and presently lives in Draper, UT.
Passage to Zarahemla has been the project of my life for the past three years. And doggone it—I’m proud of it! Sure, sure. There’s flaws. But I think we finally got some things right. And some of these are cinematic firsts.
Firstly, we finally got the ethnic thing right. Or at least we got it closer. I firmly believe there will come a day when paintings, illustrations, and movies featuring elements of the Book of Mormon wherein Europeans (oh, let’s just call ‘em white dudes) are featured as Nephites and Lamanites, will be a subject of some ridicule. And it won’t just be a “politically correct” thing. It will be because blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nephites and Lamanites are just not accurate. Even if you subscribe to the idea that Nephites should appear Jewish (since they, uh, came from Jerusalem), they would still look very different from actors in many of our Church movies.
Now, this doesn’t mean Passage to Zarahemla is perfect on that score. If you look very closely you might find one or two Caucasian Gadiantons in the group scenes. But my goal from the beginning was that the casting of these roles should be overwhelmingly dominated by Native Americans, Polynesians, and Hispanics. Now, I confess, even this strategy could be found lacking. Ask any Native American and they can tell you that there are distinctive physical differences even from one tribe to another. And they would certainly rebuff any suggestion that they look like Polynesians. But at least in this film, I’d like to think we got closer. Perhaps much closer than we’ve ever gotten before.
Secondly, Passage to Zarahemla is the first Book of Mormon story that films within the confines of actual Book of Mormon territory. Or to be more specific, we filmed in Costa Rica. Not Hawaii. Not Park City. Okay, now I better back up a bit. Quite honestly, most LDS scholars would proclaim that Costa Rica is just south of the Nephite and Lamanite heartlands. But again, we’re so much closer than the vision of any other Book of Mormon filmmaker. Yeah, yeah. I know there are still some who want to put Nephite territory in the region of the Great Lakes. They may be a dying breed, but they do die hard. Nevertheless, we filmed in Costa Rica because there appears to be a much better chance that the descendants of Lehi actually resided on this ground.
I know some are thinking…but wasn’t your “time portal” was in Leeds, Utah? Yeah, but if you pay attention to the book (the movie doesn’t really get into this) it also says that the time portal in those woods near the home of Aunt Corinne and Uncle Drew is not just a rift in time, but a rift in location. And hey, Passage is a fantasy movie after all. So don’t look too closely if want an accurate portrayal of a Book of Mormon event. In the end, it’s only fiction. But it’s a story whose intention from the beginning was to celebrate the scripture. Not prove the Book of Mormon. Not argue the case to Baptists and Catholics. Just…celebrate the fact that it is. And quite honestly, I feel that kind of unapologetic approach is more powerful anyway.
If nothing else, in years to come, I will be gratified enough if Passage to Zarahemla earns the distinction of being the first Book of Mormon story that sincerely tried to get a few of these formerly overlooked attributes right.