As a former polygamist wife, Laurie Allen said it gave her common ground with the people she was filming for her documentary on the Fundamentalist LDS Church in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
“My family’s homestead is three miles away. I went to school in Colorado City for two months when I was in the second grade,” she said.
Allen grew up in the notorious LeBaron polygamous sect. Her great- uncle Ervil LeBaron ordered a series of murders from prison, where he served a life sentence for killing a rival polygamist leader. She said she is a cousin of Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron, who was recently added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list in connection with a series of murders in 1988.
In an interview with the Deseret Morning News, Allen said she became a plural wife, and after 18 years finally left. Attending college, she enrolled in film school. For a project, she began a documentary on polygamy and the FLDS Church.
Allen’s film, titled “Banking On Heaven,” touts itself as an inside look at one of the most controversial polygamous groups. It has played at small film festivals in the United States and Canada and is now being released on DVD. A segment on the documentary is scheduled to be featured on the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.”
The film is the latest in a string of documentaries that have been released or are being filmed about the FLDS Church. Allen’s film is generating buzz on the Internet, where blogs and chat rooms are sounding off on it, both pro and con. It was panned by the Hollywood magazine “Variety,” which said “more agitprop (agitational propaganda) than balanced reportage, this somewhat amateurish feature nonetheless has more than enough shocking allegations to grab the attention.”
Former members of the FLDS Church speak out about the group, including fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs‘ sister, Elaine.
Warren Jeffs is on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He is facing criminal charges in Utah and Arizona accusing him of forcing teenage girls into polygamous marriages with older men. Federal prosecutors have charged him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
The documentary vilifies Jeffs, and a number of ex-FLDS members attack polygamy and the religion’s treatment of women and children.
“We were not allowed to read books, and I just had a thirst for knowledge,” ex-FLDS member Pam Black said.
Some allegations made by people interviewed for the film have not been substantiated by law enforcement. FLDS Church leaders and members have historically refused to talk to the news media and remain silent on many of the accusations leveled.
The pro-polygamy group Principle Voices worried the documentary will not distinguish between the FLDS and other groups.
“Even though problems do exist, I feel that in general polygamous families have high moral standards, are hard working and honest people,” said Principle Voices’ Anne Wilde. “I don’t know the solution for this situation, but I can’t believe that confusing the social problems of that community with the polygamous lifestyle in general is the answer.”
The film is also critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, accusing it of being too silent on the issue of polygamy.
In the documentary, Allen draws parallels between her own life and those of the ex-FLDS members she interviews. She said she had to become very introspective about her own upbringing.
“It was very emotional. I had to go back and look at some of my own issues,” she said.
Allen is not shy about her viewpoints of the FLDS Church and polygamous culture, accusing the religion of fostering abuse and fraud and victimizing children. She believes polygamist men should be prosecuted, as well as their wives.
“If we do that a few times, these women will say no to another marriage because they’ll go to jail, too. Let’s empower women by making them responsible,” she said.
Despite her harsh criticism of the FLDS Church, Allen acknowledged some beauty in the culture.
“They are tremendously creative and so hard working. They have worked all their lives for nothing,” she said. “It’s why (the film) is called ‘Banking on Heaven.’ They suffer tremendously in this lifetime and they think this is going to get them to heaven.”
The documentary filmmakers are banking on the film’s success. On their Web site, www.bankingonheaven.com, they offer the film in bulk. There’s a “polygamy pack” of six DVDs, a “Patriarch pack” of 13, and even the “FLDS pack” of 50.
Allen said she plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from DVD sales to The HOPE Organization, a St. George-based nonprofit that helps people leaving polygamy.
“I thought it was really, really good,” HOPE Organization director Elaine Tyler said of the documentary. “We welcome any donations to help people.”