I first met Kim Smith while I was producing and directing Sisters of Zion, a documentary film about the lives of Mormon women. Growing up in Salt Lake City, I had lived in a Mormon community my whole life and it was only after moving to Los Angeles to pursue filmmaking that I discovered people are absolutely fascinated with the Mormon faith. Soon after speaking with Kim it became clear that this was a story I needed to tell. And because of Steve’s fragile health, time was of the essence. Sisters of Zion would have to wait.
When I first met Kim, I was struck by her candor and willingness to let me observe a most private and sensitive chapter in her family’s life. I was the first person outside of family and intimate friends who would hear her story and it was a story she felt she needed to share. Somehow, sharing it with an objective outsider seemed to provide the comfort of non-judgment Kim needed to finally reveal the pain and crippling self-doubt behind the “Mormon happy face.” I knew that creating a trusting, intimate relationship with the Smiths would be essential not only in documenting the Smith’s current lives and Steve’s impending death but also in enlisting the participation of extended family. Unlike Kim, relatives on both sides participated reluctantly and then only in deference to Kim. Their powerful sense of privacy exemplified a typical Mormon reluctance to “air dirty laundry,” especially given the sensitive nature of Steve’s sexuality, illness and the position of the Church.
Kim’s sons reacted to my growing presence in their lives differently. Emotionally expressive and energetic, Parker was initially very willing to participate. But Christmas 1999 marked a change. Perhaps the realization of his family’s last Christmas together or my being there during this time triggered an uncharacteristic reserve. Getting to know Tony would be harder. His relationship with Steve showed the most strain and for a little while, he was reluctant to open up to me. But when I visited Tony on his mission in Mexico a year later, his attitude and confidence had undergone a noticeable change and Tony seemed almost eager to share a newfound clarity about his family’s experience.
The documentary was shot largely cinema verité style and footage was captured both on 16mm and digital video. Because of the generosity of Kodak we were able to shoot on film but as Steve’s health deteriorated, it became imperative to create a more intimate, less intrusive environment. Thus, much of the film was shot on DV with the crew limited to my camerawoman and myself operating sound.
Over the course of 24 months, we accumulated over 80 hours of footage, not including Kim’s extensive collection of home movies. What began as an exploration of Mormon woman became, for me, a privileged opportunity to chronicle one family’s willingness to love without judgment or condition and one woman’s decision to forgive in the most painful times. In doing so, I hope to offer the audience a unique vantage point for examining their own capacity for commitment, faith and forgiveness.
—Tasha Oldham, Director