Journey of Faith: The New World

by | Oct. 05, 2007

LDS Life

Six years ago, at the request of the BYU Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (now known as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship), filmmaker Peter Johnson, his camera crew, and some scholars began the painstaking task of retracing the journey of Lehi's family from Jerusalem to Bountiful in order to create the documentary Journey of Faith. Shot on location in the Middle East, the film features the land of Nahom, where Ishmael was buried, as well as the most likely location of Bountiful, where Nephi built his ship and the family set sail for the Promised Land. h3. From Desert to Jungle Although the burial site at Nahom had only been recently discovered, crew members were able to see hundreds of burial mounds and were even able to lay a dolly track and capture a moving shot of the site. With regard to Book of Mormon studies, Peter believes that this discovery is vastly important. "It would have been impossible for Joseph Smith to know that there was a place called Nahom on the Arabian Peninsula," he says (see 1Nephi 16:34). Using Nephi's detailed descriptions, the crew was often able to travel in the same general area that the family would have traveled, and they experienced first hand the staggering heat and harsh, whipping winds of the Arabian deserts. "The account that Nephi gives in the Book of Mormon became vividly real for us," recalls Peter. Last fall, Peter and his crew once again embarked on exploring the ancient world of Lehi's family. This time they spent two weeks in the hot jungles of Guatemala and Mexico--where most scholars believe the events of the Book of Mormon took place--to shoot footage for a second film that documents the experience of Lehi's family after they left the Holy Land and began a new life in the new world. "The first film really opens people's eyes to 1 Nephi, but this film will be even more revealing," he says. h3. Spectacular Footage and Fascinating Theories This latest film, Journey of Faith: The New World, includes fascinating commentaries by various scholars along with breathtaking footage of lush vegetation, rugged volcanoes, ancient ruins, and Mayan art. The documentary addresses several theories, such as the most likely location of the City of Nephi and the significance of the pyramids in Mesoamerica. It also discusses the chronological parallels between the development of Mesoamerican culture and the events in the Book of Mormon, the similarities and differences of the Mayan and Book of Mormon cultures, and topics such as temples, political structure, warfare, and the possibility that a volcanic storm was the actual cause of the destruction described in 3 Nephi. "There are a lot of things in this film that many people may be surprised to learn," says Peter. h3. The Struggle to Adapt In order to make this new documentary, the crew once again endured an extreme climate to get the precious footage they needed--this time in the sweltering, dense jungle, sometimes going deep into the jungle by boat. During his trip, Peter says he couldn't help but wonder how Lehi's family must have struggled to adapt to their new surroundings. "The contrast of the two worlds is so stark--the animals, the terrain, the lush forestation versus the harsh desert. Can you imagine what it must have been like the first time they heard a howler monkey screeching in the darkness? They would have had to start all over again, learning which plants were edible, what materials were available, and which animals were dangerous--it's incredible to think about." h3. The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time Peter reports that despite filming during the rainy season, the crew was able to obtain spectacular footage for Journey of Faith: The New World without complications such as raindrops falling on the lens during helicopter shots and ruining an entire flight. "It was a huge blessing," he says. In addition to the climate, the relatively smooth filming expedition was another way in which this experience differed from that of the first film. Peter and his crew were shooting Journey of Faith in the Middle East when the horrific events of September 11, 2001, unfolded. "We had spent a long day filming in the desert, and as we returned to our hotel, someone shouted, 'Something horrible has happened! Turn on CNN!'" Peter recalls. "We sat transfixed in front of the television and watched the shocking events of that day. After a while, it occurred to me--these are murderous acts of terrorists against Americans. They're probably Middle Eastern, and we're here in the middle of Yemen." Peter continues, "It was impossible to get a flight back to the U.S. We were stranded. We talked with the American Embassy, and they told us we would be safer in the desert than in the city, so we carried on and filmed for a few more days under a military escort of about twenty Yemeni soldiers. We were finally able to catch a flight to London and get out" he recalls. h3. Greater Understanding "During the shooting for both films, we felt protected and blessed," says Peter. "We have gained a new empathy for Lehi, Sariah, Nephi, and the others as we experienced first hand the true difficulty of the journey from their first steps out of Jerusalem to their first steps onto the soil of the new world. It was an amazing experience to film in the very lands that were trod by these great Book of Mormon heroes."
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