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LDS Church reboots ‘Meet the Mormons’ with new faces, new stories, new footage; release set for July 16

SHARE LDS Church reboots ‘Meet the Mormons’ with new faces, new stories, new footage; release set for July 16

SALT LAKE CITY — It has new footage, new faces, new stories.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recut the original six stories from its 2014 film, "Meet the Mormons," with new scenes, and added three more stories to draw audiences to Temple Square's Legacy Theatre and other LDS visitors' centers around the world.

"What we are offering is brand new, and we are excited to offer that to audiences," said Blair Treu, executive producer, writer and director of "Meet the Mormons."

The nine stories, edited into 20-minute documentary-style vignettes, will premiere Saturday, July 16, in Salt Lake City at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building's Legacy Theatre and be available at the other English-speaking LDS visitors' centers by request starting in August. In the Legacy Theatre, the short films will be rotated every 30 minutes throughout the day, Treu said.

Individuals and families from the three new stories were introduced to reporters Thursday morning. Jenna Kim Jones, a comedian and narrator in the original film, also narrates the new stories and was also at the media event.

Giovanna Raccosta Nazhati, an Italian native and resident of Las Vegas, is "The Artist." Her story was originally a bonus feature on the “Meet the Mormons” DVD but has been rereleased with a new twist at the end. Nazhati married a nonmember and her story should appeal to part-member LDS families.

"First of all, I thought this was a mistake," Nazhati said of her being invited to be a part of the film. "I am not the perfect Mormon. I'm the only Mormon (in my family). My husband's not even a member. But the way it happened, it actually changed my husband's perspective of the church. He felt accepted."

Jeff and Emily Wadman are featured in a segment titled "The Horseman." The couple with one child has a ranch in Morgan, Utah, where Jeff Wadman works as a horse trainer. While sharing their lifestyle and faith, the Wadmans also talk about their belief in traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Wadman family members and friends were "overwhelmed" to see the couple highlighted this way, Emily Wadman said. It was difficult to get used to the camera crews following them around the ranch and into sacrament meeting one Sunday.

"They haven't seen it yet, so we are excited to attend the premiere with them," Emily Wadman said.

The third story features "The Entertainers," the Kawamitsu family from Japan that includes two brothers, Aiki and Akashi, and two sisters, Kanasa and Akino. Together, they make up a musical group called bless4. They promote family and LDS values through their music and lifestyle. The youngest brother, Aiki, is currently serving a Mormon mission. The sisters also describe their personal struggles with body image and an eating disorder in the film. They enjoyed sharing their life with Treu and the film crew, they said.

"We had a very claustrophobic two weeks (with the film crews following us)," Akashi Kawamitsu said with a laugh, "But it was fun."

Treu said the new stories are crafted in the fashion as the original six.

"We have the same creative team, so there’s a level of expectation that the stories are going to be entertaining and inspirational," Treu said. "The new stories make it more fresh and exciting."

The trio of new vignettes will complement the original six stories featured in the original film. They include U.S. Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo; Bishnu Adhikari, the humanitarian from Nepal; Carolina Munoz Marin, the amateur kickboxer from Costa Rica; Jermaine Sullivan, the academic counselor and LDS bishop from Atlanta; retired Col. Gail Halverson, known as the Candy Bomber, from Arizona; and Dawn Armstrong, the missionary mom from Utah.

Treu said the original version of "Meet the Mormons" was intended to come straight to the Legacy Theatre, but an outside consulting firm from Los Angeles tested it with nonmember audiences in key market cities like New York City and Los Angeles and returned with favorable reviews. The consulting firm recommended the church make the movie available to a wider audience, Treu said.

"The First Presidency decided to do that," Treu said.

"Meet the Mormons" opened in the Top 10 and eventually settled around the Top 35 of all-time grossing documentary films, according to Boxofficemojo.com. (The church donated the proceeds, $1.8 million, to the American Red Cross.) But the outside success was a negative for the Legacy Theatre. The DVD was already available in about 4,000 Wal-Mart stores and the film was available on Netflix and YouTube.com, Treu said.

A schedule is available at legacytheater.lds.org.

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone