The Smiths of Salt Lake City were living, by their own account, an idyllic life. In Steve, Kim had found the man of her dreams a pillar of the Mormon community and together they were raising their sons with faith. Secure in their church, their community, and in their love for each other, the Smiths had it all.
Then, on the couple’s ninth anniversary, Steve revealed that he had been having sexual encounters with men. Three years later, Kim discovered that she was HIV positive; soon after Steve developed AIDS.
As the Smiths confront the physical and emotional toll of Steve’s infidelity and of AIDS, Kim quickly becomes the family’s moral heart. The Smith Family is, in many ways, her story. Despite her own family’s disapproval and Steve’s struggle with the Church as well as her own feelings of betrayal and anger Kim makes an unlikely choice to stay with Steve. Her determination to forgive, and to keep the family together, sets the Smiths on an uncommon path of reconciliation.
But it is a heartbreakingly difficult path. Steve himself becomes increasingly self-absorbed as he struggles with his shame and guilt. First attributing his behavior to childhood sexual abuse, he seeks refuge in Mormon doctrine on homosexuality and family life. When Steve eventually comes to terms with his homosexuality, it creates an enormous strain on his Church standing. Kim faces all the responsibilities of caring for Steve, who is sick with AIDS, and for running the family. Inspired by their mother, the boys decide to keep faith with both Mormonism and their Dad despite the apparent contradictions. But the boys are growing up, and Kim feels she is facing a lonely future especially in light of her own HIV status. As Steve’s health declines, Kim and Steve undergo a wrenching affirmation of faith and love in the face of their shared tragedy.
“This is an emotionally powerful story, and I had to walk a fine line in order not to manipulate the audience one way or the other,” says producer/director Oldham. “I felt it was important for the Smiths to tell their own story, and to let the audience have its own reaction. The heart of the story is Kim’s decision, which I found extraordinary, to keep the family together.”
The effort to stay together in such trying circumstances would pull most families apart, and the family’s candidness throughout this heart-wrenching yet uplifting documentary is uncommonly brave. Mixing intimate interviews with footage of family events and private interactions, The Smith Family is not a documentary about the Mormon faith, AIDS or homosexuality. Rather it offers a dramatic portrait of one family’s extraordinary response to extraordinary circumstances.