It’s estimated that more than a thousand young men and women — mostly men — have escaped or been thrown out of the community known as “The Crick,” the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., dominated by the polygamous Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints sect.
Getting those young adults to talk about their lives in and out of “The Crick” was difficult, say the filmmakers who have profiled some of those exiled teens for the documentary “Sons of Perdition.”
“The kids are taught that everyone outside their community is evil, especially those in the media,” said Tyler Measom, who co-directed the documentary, which had its world premiere last weekend at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Measom and co-director Jennilyn Merten focus on several teen boys who left the FLDS community and now live in the St. George area. The film shows them over a two-year period, trying to adjust to life outside the influence of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and trying to help other family members escape the polygamous life.
In took several months for the youths to trust the filmmakers. “Because of our background, and because we were ex-Mormon, we could relate with them,” he said.
Merten said the film doesn’t delve too deeply into the doctrinal differences between the mainstream LDS church and the FLDS sect. “We really wanted to tell more of a character study,” Merten said. “We say it’s a breakaway group and leave it at that.”
As former Mormons, Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten were naturally drawn to the subject of their new documentary playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Sons of Perdition.” The film follows three boys who escaped from a polygamist sect led by Warren S. Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke away from the mainstream Mormon church about a century ago.
The co-directors of “Sons of Perdition” recently spoke to ArtsBeat about how they found the boys at the heart of the film, the dangers of making a documentary about this church and Mr. Jeffs’s keen interest in American pop music.
The movie’s gimmick vaguely recalls the reality show “Amish in the City,” while the polygamy backdrop invites comparisons to HBO’s “Big Love.” At the same time, the heavier theme of individual suppression puts the movie in the tradition of “Trembling Before G-d,” Sandi DuBowski’s portrait of closeted homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism. In “Perdition,” most of the characters manage to escape their restrictions, providing the filmmakers with less accessibility issues than they surely would have encountered if the cameras actually ventured deeper into the community.
Reeling from the limitations of their youth, the subjects spend most of the movie mouthing off about it while displaying an interest in keeping the rest of their families in check. “To them, it would’ve been better for me to die rather than leave,” says Sam, the oldest of ten siblings. His grave pronouncement echoes throughout the movie as the kids – many of whom crash at the home of millionaire activist Jeremy Johnson – struggle to undo the bonds with the world they left behind. However, the real tragedy belongs to the women of their makeshift group, whose horror stories about pre-teen marriage (“All Warren has to do is make a call and bam – they’re married”) explain the darkest forces at work under Jeffs’s rulership.
Jeffs, meanwhile, remains a phantom figure whose voice on the soundtrack (culled from his own educational recordings) turns him into a de facto narrator. The movie lacks a single explanation for the way that any of the exiles managed to wake up from Jeffs’s spell and search for better lives, but their valiant defiance has a remarkable purity to it. Rather than dismantling their faith intellectually, the youth convey a simple realization that the world exists beyond Colorado City.
In LDS teachings, there will be a final judgment where mankind will be either rewarded or punished for their deeds done while on earth. For the most part, it is a modified system of universalism which means that there will be a temporary punishment, or “hell” of sorts. Ultimately, though that punishment will have an end. LDS Apostle John Widtsoe stated, “In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is no hell. All will find a measure of salvation” (Evidences and Reconciliations, p.216). The only real, eternal hell will be each person’s knowledge that he or she could have had a better reward.
But there is one group whose end is spoken of as being far more terrible. The greatest punishment given out in the final judgment will be for those called “sons of perdition.” Many have wondered who will be a part of this group and what can be expected to happen to them.