You might be familiar with the names Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. (Especially if you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
Each of these men played an important role in Church history.
Every printed copy of the Book of Mormon contains their testimony and witness to the truthfulness of the record.
But even if you’re familiar with their background, there’s a lot you may not know about them. That’s why The Interpreter Foundation is bringing the largely untold story of these men to life on the big screen.
The upcoming film ”Witnesses” opens June 4 on more than 350 screens nationwide and takes a closer look at Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris and how their calling as witnesses changed them and fulfilled revelation.
Tapping into the humanity of early Church leaders
Filmed in Utah, Canada, and Massachusetts last year, “Witnesses” dives deeper into the lives of the men who played pivotal roles in early Church history.
“Witnesses” actor Paul Wuthrich is happy to fulfill his “dream role” of playing Joseph Smith, whom he calls his hero. This feeling only grew as he learned more about the raw, human experiences that were Joseph’s reality.
From his first audition, which involved reading an intense scene between Smith and Cowdery, Wuthrich knew he’d be portraying a new side of the prophet that he — and many others — have always wanted to see: the human side.
Apart from Joseph Smith, “Witnesses” explores the humanity and rawness of all the main characters.
A personal experience for the actors
Movie critics have said that the actors deliver “refreshing performances in deep and meaningful ways” as the characters sacrifice for their faith, loyalty, and the noble cause they believed in. Lincoln Hoppe, Michael Zuccola and Caleb J. Spivak were well cast as Martin Harris, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, respectively.
But before they got the script, Zuccola and Spivak hadn’t heard of Joseph Smith, the golden plates, or the men they would portray. This meant that they got to discover the wonder of these experiences for themselves in each scene.
Their performance helps the audience better understand what it must have been like for these men to know a seer, to see an ancient record on golden plates, and to stand before an angel.
A witness to the world
As shown in the film, being a witness to the truth of the restored gospel couldn’t have been easy for these men. Yet their words have endured through the ages and reached a broader, worldwide audience.
Perhaps Joseph Smith’s oft-quoted and most beloved prophecy contained in an 1842 letter addressed to Chicago newspaper editor John Wentworth summarizes it best, “No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing,” Joseph affirmed, despite the adversity the young Church had already faced. “Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
Cowdery, Whitmer and Harris surely dealt with persecution, mobs and attempts to defame their witness, but they never denied what they said. They knew their witness was printed in 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon in 1829.
Imagine what they would think nearly 200 years later with more than 192 million printed copies in 3,500 languages available worldwide.
See the film, study the history
Similarly, the film “Witnesses” is reaching a far and wide audience. Opening June 4, the film was originally slated for 25, then 30, then 42 theaters. Now Purdie Distribution reports that the film will be available in more than 350 theaters nationwide. (For theater listings, ticket links and private watch party information, visit witnessesfilm.com.)
Additionally, The Interpreter Foundation, with support from FAIR and Book of Mormon Central, created a new website to highlight the experiences of witnesses of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. This is a great resource for people studying Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants this year and for years to come.
The feature film “Witnesses” will be followed by a documentary called ”Undaunted: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon,” coming in the summer of 2021. If you have more questions after seeing the film, you can go to the website to learn more about the three witnesses, the eight witnesses, others who saw and handled the golden plates, and people of the modern age who also believe the Book of Mormon is true.
As further research is conducted regarding the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, the site will continue to grow to become one of the foremost tools in the study of the history of the witnesses and their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.