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Church making Smith film

Movie is for Memorial Building's Legacy Theater

What could be more appropriate for a movie to be shown in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building than a film about Joseph Smith himself?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has begun production on a major film to commemorate the life of the church's founder, officials have confirmed. The movie is being produced for the Memorial Building's Legacy Theater and is scheduled to be completed by December 2005 — the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith.

He was born on Dec. 23, 1805, in Sharon, Windsor County, Vt.

According to Michael Purdy, LDS Church spokesman, details about the movie, its title and cast won't be announced until Monday morning during a special news conference in Provo.

However, he did confirm that production on the film is separate from a feature previously announced by LDS filmmaker Richard Dutcher, known for LDS-themed movies such as "God's Army" and "Brigham City." Dutcher's "The Prophet," a $12 million project, is also supposed to be released sometime next year to coincide with the bicentennial of Joseph Smith's birth.

"It's going to be my birthday present to him," Dutcher told the Deseret Morning News a year ago in discussing his plans for the movie.

Dutcher could not be reached for an updated comment on his project. Its bulk was to have been filmed this past summer. However, on the Web site, Dutcher's "The Prophet" is listed as "not yet in production or pre-production."

Portions of the church's Joseph Smith film are currently being filmed in Provo, and the media will be offered a glimpse of the shooting Monday morning.

Although Brigham Young, the church's second president, has been a central focus in at least one major Hollywood movie, Joseph Smith has not. A young Vincent Price portrayed Joseph Smith in 1940's "Brigham Young — Frontiersman." Dean Jagger, later to become an Academy Award-winning actor, portrayed Brigham Young. Tyrone Power was the star.

However, talk of major movie projects to feature Joseph Smith began as early as the 1970s, though none materialized outside various small instructional movies on the "First Vision" and related subjects, produced by the LDS Church.

"American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith," a PBS documentary, was released in 2000. Gregory Peck narrated the work.

"The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd," which was mainly filmed in Hawaii, is the film currently being shown to visitors in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building's 500-seat Legacy Theater. It began showings on March 24, 2000.

"The Testaments" and "Legacy," its predecessor, are both about 60 minutes long. Whether the church's Joseph Smith movie will be about the same length is also unclear at this time.

The Legacy Theater is a state-of-the-art movie theater that projects 70mm films onto a giant 31-by-62-foot screen. It uses a Dolby six-channel surround-sound system and provides translated audio in five languages. Tickets are required for Legacy theater movies to control audience numbers, but there is no charge.

Approximately 5 million guests enjoyed the original movie, "Legacy," over its seven-year run. "Legacy" is a fictional story based on stories of early Mormon pioneers.

More than 1 million people saw "Testaments" within the first year of its debut.

Besides the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith being celebrated in 2005, the LDS Church will also commemorate its 175th anniversary and other special events next year. The LDS Church was organized on April 6, 1830.