There have been many films that have been made that deal with religious intolerance. Many have dealt with Christianity, Catholicism or Judaism. The Work And The Glory: American Zion deals with the little known (compared to Christianity, of course) Mormon faith, and how the Mormon people, led by Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe, Into The West, The L-Word) on a quest to find their holy land of Zion, traveled across the country to settle in peace, only to find hostility and anger at every turn.
American Zion is the second film in The Work And The Glory trilogy based on the novels by Gerald N. Lund. Directed by Sundance Film Festival founder Sterling Van Wagenan (Alan & Naomi, The Haunted Desert: Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Convicts), American Zion sets the story of the fictional Steed family and the turmoil between a father; Benjamin Steed; and a son; Joshua Steed; and how their stubborn ideologies and feelings have torn their family apart.
The cinematography by Reed Smoot is beautiful. The emphasis of the natural world around is sometimes breathtaking. Sometimes these period films remind us how much we take nature for granted. The openness of the land really emphasizes the potential that the American people had in those days. For better or worse, there was great potential.
One of the main flaws of the movie is its incompleteness to the entire story. Yes, it’s about the Mormons and how they traveled across the country to find Zion. But it would be a better movie if it put greater detail into the religion and why these people believed so much in Joseph Smith. The first film The Work And The Glory is summarized within the first few minutes of American Zion, but not having seen the first film shows some incompleteness to the story. Who really knows what person Joseph Smith is or how the Mormon religion even differentiates from Christianity? The only empathy one can really gather is the ignorant persecution by many people, but even that has its misrepresentations.
In today’s society, urban sprawl is a huge issue. People are migrating and expanding further across the country and the rapid convergence of different cultures might lead to misunderstandings. It seems reasonable that people might be afraid of the sudden migration of hundreds of people near their homes. Did the Mormons make any attempts to ease themselves into the lands by socializing with the townspeople? Did the townspeople make any non-threatening attempts to make their concerns known?
If the Mormons met resistance to their people and religion in New York, why wouldn’t they assume the same thing might happen again in Ohio and Missouri? The proclamation that a certain piece of land is meant for you would irk anyone who lives there the wrong way. Religious intolerance has been historically cumbersome to deal with. Faith can be very powerful. Faith can also be misleading and misinterpreted.
This film is very singular in its viewpoint, although there are instances of trying to gather many different sides of the story (like a bar scene where the Missourians discuss the social implications that the Mormons are having on issues like business and slavery). And that’s fine in some instances, but when dealing with a touchy subject like religion — which elicits many other issues like prejudice and racism — there needs to be a greater awareness for completeness and cultural relativity. You won’t get much disagreement in that persecution — whether for culture, race or religion — is morally wrong, but the discussion in the how’s and why’s behind it is what’s really important.
The film is well made, but doesn’t deviate from the normal cliches of religious films (like Joseph’s miracle healing of a woman’s stricken arm). It’s a good thing that The Work And The Glory is a trilogy, but I think the story would work better as a miniseries – telling it from different perspectives and telling more. American Zion tells the story from the perspective of the Steed family and how the Mormon faith has affected them, and the story works with a small film like American Zion. American Zion is good as it is, but more might have been better.
Vineyard Productions and Special Ops Media are sponsoring a giveaway of 4 American Zion t-shirts (one small, one medium, two large), bookmarks and small one-sheet posters, which I am in possession of. If you would like these, please don’t hesitate to ask.