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The Smith Family

Premiere Date: June 25, 2002

   

Interview

Filmmaker Tasha Oldham talks about how she came to make a film about a Mormon woman whose perfect life is shattered when she discovers that her husband has been having affairs with men, and that she is HIV-positive.

POV: Why did you choose documentary in this case?

Tasha Oldham: I found a story that I wanted to tell and I felt the people who lived it would be the most effective way to share their story. I never saw myself as a documentary filmmaker, well, I don't remember making that choice. Sometimes I feel like documentary chose me. I do think docs have gotten a bad wrap over the years as being the boring historical stuff we fell asleep to in school, when the reality is that documentaries vary just as much as narrative films do.

POV: How did you meet the Smith family?

Oldham: I was producing a documentary about the lives of Mormon women. I wanted to take an objective look at the Mormon faith by exploring the diversity of its women. Which contrary to popular opinion does exist. One of the aspects I wanted to explore was homosexuality within the church, which again, isn't such an anomaly as one might think. So, I spent about two years meeting & interviewing women all over the country as potential prospects to be in the film. Because of the nature of the Mormon culture, most women were very cautious about telling their story on camera and it took some convincing just to get a preliminary interview. But with Kim, during our first meeting, she told me she would be honored if she & her family could be a part of the film.

Now of course, at the time, she had no idea what she was offering to do. Originally she was to be one of five women in this other film. But after spending three days with the family, it became clear to my entire crew that this family needed a film of their own.

POV: What interested you in their story?

Oldham: I was most drawn to the fact that this really could be any family, it could be any religion, any city — their personal circumstances were irrelevant. They are the "Jones." They had it all, they were living the American dream. These are no longer issues that happen to "other" people.

What made them different was Kim's choice to forgive Steve and keep her family together. That is when this family became different from the rest. She chose unconditional love & forgiveness over anger & bitterness. She chose to overcome and make the best of it, then the rest of the family followed.

POV: What drew you to the subject?

Oldham: I am a Mormon woman, and I wanted to expand people's perception about who the Mormons really are, particularly their women. We are not all barefoot, pregnant, white, submissive women living in Utah. And we are not all polygamists. Polygamy was outlawed over 100 years ago, and if anyone is still practices it, they are not recognized as members of the Mormon church.

POV: What was it like with the family while making this documentary?

Oldham: I spent nearly three years with the family and the dynamics changed with each member of the family, except for Kim. Originally Parker was very open & receptive to be involved with the film, while Tony was much more reserved. We had to corner him in his room to get an interview. The rest of the family thought Kim must have lost her mind for allowing a film crew into their lives at this very private, intense time.

Once I showed them a 7 minute promo piece we put together, everything changed. Parker, who was still very cooperative, wanted more private time with the family — particularly his father. I think maybe he thought having the camera there took away from the sacredness of each moment. And Tony wanted to redo his first interview, he gave me all access, anything I wanted. By the time I went down to Mexico to shoot him on his mission, he was telling me where to put the camera to get the best shot.

The rest of the family came along in time. They began to trust me and see me as someone who was going to make this film regardless. I think much of it had to do with Kim's trust in me and their trust in her.

POV: As a filmmaker, what were you exploring?

Oldham: Ideas of family, unconditional love, forgiveness, and survival of the human spirit.

POV: What was the most surprising thing to you in making The Smith Family"?

Oldham: The process of discovery. I set out to tell one story and wound up with quite another. I was on a journey just as much as the Smiths. It was important to me to allow the story to unfold along the way and tell itself. I had no idea how or when it would end.

I was constantly amazed how the Smiths took these tragic circumstances and overcame. Right from the beginning, I viewed their story as inspirational, not sad, and I was hoping to convey that same feeling in the film.

POV: Has the family seen the film? What did they think of it?

Oldham: They have and they are very happy with it.

POV: What are the Smiths doing now?

Oldham: Tony returned from his mission in May, he will be returning to the University of Utah to cheer with Parker. Parker also performed in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics.

Kim is doing very well. She is back to work and enjoys being very involved with her family. She is healthy and looking forward to living a long productive life.

POV: What is your motivation as a filmmaker?

Oldham: I am inspired and motivated by many forms of art; painting, photography, music, literature, poetry. I am very visual and love to experiment with things outside the norm. A few favorite filmmakers Robert Altman, John Sayles, Woody Allen, Barbara Kopple.

POV: What generally inspires your interest?

Oldham: I consider myself an independent filmmaker in every sense of the word. I am intrigued by projects that most studios would never touch because they aren't mainstream enough. Stories that haven't been told or re-told in any fashion, stories that provoke thought and stimulate conversation, stories that inspire the human spirit and feel truly genuine. While not exclusively, I am drawn to material with a female perspective.

POV: What were your goals in making The Smith Family? And what would you like to see happen with it?

Oldham: I hoped to get people talking about these issues; homosexuality within Mormonism or any faith for that matter, unconditional love, forgiveness, Kim's choice to keep her family together.

Ideally, I would love for viewers to become perhaps a little more open minded and less judgmental in their own lives. It is not all black & white, there are many shades of gray in everything. We all choose to deal with things in our own way, one choice isn't right or wrong, its just different.

POV: What are you currently working on or what would you like to be working on?

Oldham: I am in the process of searching for a narrative feature length script to direct. Also, I would like to finish Sisters of Zion, the documentary I had originally set out to make, when I met Kim, about the diverse lives of Mormon women, funding provided.

I'm also flirting with the idea of moving to Italy for a spell.





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