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LDS documentary `Ensign to the Nations' airs today

"An Ensign to the Nations," an LDS Church production that was more than two years in the making, will premiere locally today at noon on KSL-TV, Ch. 5 - between sessions of LDS General Conference.

The new documentary tells the stories of faith and sacrifice behind the worldwide growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.It will be rebroadcast on KBYU-TV, Ch. 11 tonight at 7 and will eventually be available on videocassette.

The production will also be broadcast via satellite to stake centers in several parts of the world that receive general conference proceedings live. It is scheduled to begin 15 minutes after the conclusion of the Sunday morning conference session.

"An Ensign to the Nations" was made by the LDS Church's Audiovisual Department, with Russ Holt as the producer.

With so much attention paid to the early history of the church during its sesquicentennial year, Holt said the movie depicts church history from 1847 to 1997. It makes clear that the pioneer trek wasn't the end - but rather the beginning - of an epic story that continues to grow larger with each passing year.

"It tells the rest of the story to the present day," he said. "It offers a panoramic view of the church."

Holt said the initial meeting to discuss the idea for the movie was held in June of 1995. Even on the eve of this weekend's general conference, Holt said the finishing touches were being made to a 40-second hole in the movie.

"The First Presidency felt this story needed to be told so members of the church everywhere could see what they are a part of," Holt said.

He also said the First Presidency guided the producers very carefully in who should be featured.

Part of the show's power is that it profiles the rank and file of regular church members. He described them as the modern pioneers - ordinary people with extraordinary courage.

"It features people who took hold of the church in their native land and spent their lives bringing it to their countrymen."

Those involved in formulating the production felt that filming real church members would be more effective and inspiring than a drama using actors, Holt said.

The primary audience for "Ensign" is members of the church and Holt said the film aims to accurately portray the church as more than an American institution.

The production didn't have a large enough budget to film worldwide at myriad locations, but time was spent on location filming in Hawaii, Argentina and Washington, D.C. The rest of the filming was done in Utah, with existing video footage and photographs incorporated.

Even with those limitations, the story does contain accounts of members living in many parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and South America.

Holt said 50 to 60 people were involved in filming and production. "A lot of people worked very hard on this for a long time," he said.

The videocassette version of "Ensign" is a month or more away, since no reproduction of it has yet taken place, Holt said.

"Ensign" is the latest in a string of new movies the Church has produced and shown between Sunday general conference sessions during recent years.

Holt, a senior producer with the church's audiovisual department, has also produced several other well-known church movies, including "Lamb of God" and "How Rare a Possession: The Book of Mormon."