Latter-day Saint Life

Unprecedented documentary featuring missionaries premieres at Sundance

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In a historic first, a documentary team unconnected with the Church was given unique access to film four young Latter-day Saint missionaries serving in the Helsinki Finland Mission. The product of their work is a 95-minute documentary titled The Mission, premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

The film follows four missionaries serving in Finland for the entirety of their full-time service. Director Tania Anderson told Filmmaker Magazine, “It was hard to believe this film hadn’t been made before!”

According to the film’s description on Sundance’s website, “The Mission follows four American teens as they embark on one of the most religiously significant, ideologically challenging, and culturally unifying experiences in their community: their mission to Finland. As these young people reckon with the weight of their ambassador status, the film explores the varying ways in which their work shapes how they view themselves, the world, and their theology. Steadfast in its commitment to their perspectives, this film reveals the individuals behind the suits and nametags that have come to signify the work of [Latter-day Saint] missionaries globally. Through snubs on street corners, difficult Finnish lessons, triumphant baptisms, tearful goodbyes, and riotous welcomes home, The Mission is a full-bodied, complex presentation of missionary life.”

Anderson told Filmmaker Magazine it took about two years to get access to the right people at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City and several months of emails convincing Church officials that this was not an investigative project about the Church, but rather a coming-of-age story about the young people themselves serving as missionaries. Elder Brent H. Nielson, then the Executive Director of the Missionary Department, was the one who eventually signed off on the project. Coincidentally, as a young man in the 1970s, Elder Nielson himself served a full-time mission in Finland.

In an interview with Deadline’s virtual Sundance Studio, Anderson shared that her inspiration for the film came after she moved to a small town and often found herself walking with her three-month-old baby down the cold, dark, snowy streets of what felt like an endless Finnish winter. One day as she walked, she heard two young men—Latter-day Saint missionaries—speaking in English about the widespread nature of temptation. She found herself considering what an interesting conversation to be having to each other at such a young age.

“I saw these two kids, for the first time,” Anderson said in the video interview. “I saw these kids behind the suits. And I saw the pimples on their face, and I thought, “Oh! … They’re far away from home! And they may be scared or unsure, [but] they’re here.”

Aside from highlighting the humanity, humility, dedication, and doubts of her subjects, one of the overarching themes of Anderson’s film quickly became the cultural differences and interactions between these young Americans and the people in Finland they were trying to teach.

“Generally speaking, I’d say Finns and North Americans couldn’t be more different in terms of their disposition to life and interaction with others.” Anderson told Deadline. “But, it turns out, [Latter-day Saints] have their own distinct culture. They’re all so freakin’ nice and wholesome, and I mean this in the most loving of ways! Yeah, this distinct culture they have is pretty fascinating.”

Two of the four missionaries featured in the film, Tyler Davis and Megan Bills, were also included in Deadline’s virtual studio interview and shared what their missions meant to them.

“Going to Finland, it gave me the opportunity to understand myself more than ever before,” Davis shared. “I think the way that the Finns live—people calling them shy or being themselves more reserved—it gives them an opportunity to understand themselves more and be comfortable with self-love. And, so, I would say that how I coped, or how I dealt with the differences of Finland, was that it transformed me to such a better person that I was able to love myself more. So I’m really grateful for everything that Finland and the people did for me.”

“It was definitely hard, like there [were] times … it was really difficult and draining,” Bills explained. “It always just led me to question, ‘Why am I here and why do I keep trying?’ And that answer was always the same, that I felt I was doing everything I could to spread love and joy and teach people about something that has changed my life, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Bills and Davis were both also grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the film and excited to now have a “video journal” of their missionary service.

Anderson told The Salt Lake Tribune, “[I hope] people feel what it’s like to be a [Latter-day Saint] missionary, and be in their shoes just for a few moments. My hope is that when we see them, we say, ‘Oh, yeah, that guy’s just a regular dude, and he’s got the same sort of things going on [as me],’ then maybe there’s just a little less fear, a little less apprehension. It’s my peace project—my contribution towards a little bit more peace in this world.”

The Mission premiered online at this year’s Sundance Film Festival on January 24. Find information on viewing the film here.

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