Sundance filmmaker turns focus on Mormon offshoot
THE US director of an award-winning film about sex abuse by Catholic priests has unveiled a new documentary, focusing on child sexual assault in a radical offshoot of the Mormon Church.
Amy Berg, whose “Deliver Us from Evil” (2006) was nominated for an Oscar, premiered her latest film “Prophet’s Prey” at the Sundance Film Festival this week.
“Deliver Us From Evil” was about a Roman Catholic priest who was relocated to various parishes around the United States in the 1970s in a bid to cover up his rape of dozens of children.
Her new film concerns the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which split from the mainstream Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the early 20th century.
Specifically, the movie tells the story of self-declared FLDS “Prophet” Warren Jeffs, who was jailed for life after being found guilty in 2011 of child sexual assault.
Berg said she was fascinated after hearing one of Jeffs’ sermons. “I could not understand it, I literally heard his voice, he’s not Jim Jones, he’s not David Koresh,” she said, referring to two charismatic cult leaders.
“He’s just monotone, zero charisma, his shirts are too big, he’s lacking everything you would expect … so I was very interested in finding out more,” she said.
Despite the scandal, the FLDS has an estimated 10,000 followers and recently opened a new compound in South Dakota, along with other communities in Oklahoma, Florida, Colorado, Texas and the Arizona/Utah border, she said.
Its adherents still practice polygamy — and were definitely not welcoming to Berg’s film crew. “Every time we came into town, we’d be followed by these big white trucks, people were throwing water bottles at us,” she said.
“My DP (director of photography) got hit in the face with a rock one day, it was just like, ‘What is going on? This is such a crazy story’.”
Berg said she believed the mainstream LDS church would support her film about its radical offshoot, although she had not had any formal response.
“I hope that we’ll get a lot of support from the LDS church because this is proof that this is not them .. and (the LDS) has nothing to with polygamy any more,” the director said.
“It’s about child abuse and power and greed and manipulation of people, and brainwashing,” she added.
She drew parallels between her new film at “Deliver Us from Evil,” in the sense of the scandals’ wider impact.
“I’m very interested in how cycles of violence and abuse can impact society at large, and you think about all these people who have been kicked out or escaped that have been brainwashed their whole life,” she said.
“It’s an important story, and I think it has a larger connotation,” she said.
Coincidentally, the film premiered in Park City, Utah, on the same day that Mormon leaders in nearby Salt Lake City gave a rare press conference on the issues of gay and religious rights.
They called for laws to be passed granting statewide protections against housing and employment discrimination for gays and lesbians — as long as those measures also safeguard religious freedom.