The original goal of Meet the Mormons was to show the world “who we are and what makes us tick,” says Blair Treu, the film’s executive producer, writer, and director.
The film was originally destined for the Legacy Theater on Temple Square and other visitor’s centers, but when an outside consulting firm in Los Angeles began testing the film with audiences across the nation, the filmmakers soon realized this documentary could have a bigger impact and might connect with people in a way they never anticipated.
In 2014, the First Presidency decided to release the film to a larger audience, and Meet the Mormons quickly became among the 30 top grossing documentaries of all time, with all the proceeds donated to the Red Cross.
So what is it about this film that connects so well with people?
Maybe it’s the way it captures the diverse, powerful, and personal lives of Mormons of all different types who still practice the same beliefs. Or perhaps it’s the way it breaks stereotypes and crosses boundaries to show the side of Mormonism most people don’t know about.
“I don’t know if there is a Mormon mold,” Treu explains. “It shows we are diverse, much more than people think.”
Because of the original success of Meet the Mormons, the Church has decided to add on to these stories, reworking the original six stories and adding new footage to create 20-minute films that will be shown on Temple Square and other visitor’s centers beginning July 16. In addition, three new stories have been added to the originals.
Among them is the story of horse trainer Jeff Wadman and his wife Emily, a couple who has already seen this project influence the lives of those around them.
“I love being a part of missionary work and we felt this would be a great way to share the gospel,” Jeff explains. “It has just been a means for me to share with people who are not of our faith, even my own friends. When the trailer came out, especially on Facebook, there were people who commented that I [didn't imagine] would have noticed this kind of thing.”
“Our story is nothing extraordinary,” Emily adds. “But I hope we are living our lives in a way that people can see Jesus in us.”
“The miracle [in this is] that they chose us and that it has brought our family together,” Jeff says.
And it’s surprising how many simple moments in the Wadman's lives do speak of their deeper faith.
“There is a lot that the horses can share and I didn’t think that was something I should keep to myself,” Jeff shares. “I believe that God works with man with patience and with mercy, and I know that the most success that I’ve had with horses in my training is when I treat horses the way God works with us.”
Jeff also shares how he’s noticed parallels in the way both horses and humans respond to challenges or training. Each horse has its own temperament, each is unique, and each takes a different amount of time to train, much like each of us is unique, but God guides and works with us all individually.
The biggest lesson the Wadmans have learned from their journey with Meet the Mormons is that no matter what happens or what comes into their lives, family is what matters most.
“Families are the most important structure,” Jeff explains. “With Emily’s family, she often grew up without a father. Sometimes families are built not as an ideal family, as [a] mother and father with kids. But I would just say keep trying and there are people there to support you.”
And even when things aren’t picture perfect, the most important support we receive is from our Heavenly Parents, who are always there, no matter what.
As for the future of Meet the Mormons and whether more stories will be added in the future, that is still to be decided.
“We are developing stories for 2017,” Treu shares. “We don’t know that we will be pursuing those yet. We’ll just see how this turns out and take it a year at a time.”
[Photo from Meet the Mormons]
Learn more about the other stories featured in Meet the Mormons with “Mom in New ‘Meet the Mormons’ Shares 5 Tips for When Your Spouse Doesn't Share Your Faith” and “LDS Pop Stars Share How They Stand for Faith and Family Against All Odds.”