Out with the bad air, in with the good.
Back in 2001, the concept of LDS-themed cinema seemed almost alien. Sure, there had been films produced about Mormons off and on over the decades, but only in 2000 did God’s Army receive a theatrical release and blow everyone’s mind that missionaries could be both approximately 35 years old and cancer patients currently in treatment. Who knew?! Richard Dutcher did. The following decade saw the release of dozens of LDS-themed films of varying quality before a newer set of filmmakers started producing much more ambitious material such as The Saratov Approach and Freetown.
But it was the release of The Other Side of Heaven, based on the memoir by Elder John H. Groberg of his time as a missionary in Tonga, that Mormon cinema became something much more substantial, with tear-jerking drama and higher production values to accompany the faith-promoting message. The film was panned by critics, but embraced by the LDS community, eventually grossing $4.7 million over the course of its run. And the cherry on top: Walt Disney Home Entertainment hopped on board for the home video release, which is why many think of it as a “Disney film.”
One might naturally think that the story of The Other Side of Heaven ended when young Elder Groberg returned to Idaho and married his sweet Jean. But the book upon which The Other Side of Heaven was based, In the Eye of the Storm, also happens to have a sequel, Fire of Faith, that depicts Groberg’s return to Tonga as a mission president, this time with a young family in tow. And as luck would have it, Excel Entertainment has announced the long-awaited sequel to the LDS classic, to be titled, The Other Side of Heaven II, based on Fire and Faith. This, of course, is a missed opportunity to name it The Other Other Side of Heaven or The Other Side of Heaven II: Kolipoki Returns. Mitch Davis, the original film’s director will return, as will actor Christopher Gorham, who played John H. Groberg in the original. It’s actually pretty awesome to get the same actor 17 years later.
Notably missing from the announcement is the inclusion of one Anne Hathaway, a young indie actress barely seen in anything since the original film, and who has yet to make much of an impression on the awards circuit. Oh well, hopefully she has a good career ahead of her. The role of Jean will be played by Natalie Medlock.
In an interview with Kurt Francom of LeadingLDS, Elder Groberg explained that the extension of his mission call was a bit unusual by today’s standards. (The full podcast is embedded below.) He was raising his four young children in Idaho Falls and expecting a fifth. One day, while at the construction company he managed, Jean called him to tell him that a letter from the Church had arrived and he should return home to open it. Groberg was serving as a lay bishop in his congregation at the time and was nonplussed about the news, as such correspondence from Salt Lake was not uncommon for someone in his role. Jean, however, informed John that the letter was not typical mail, as it was addressed to Elder John H. Groberg. John immediately went home and discovered he had been called as a mission president and was to travel to Salt Lake City for six weeks of training. John asked Jean how quickly she could get baby number five out, and their journey began.
Just as in the original movie, Elder Groberg’s second mission to Tonga was filled with trial and joy, frustration and celebration, including a newborn son who became seriously ill in Tonga and nearly died, until Elder Groberg was finally able to get Jean and the baby on an airplane to America for medical care. He and Jean remained separated for some time as she remained stateside to care for their tender son, while John was stayed in Tonga to oversee missionary efforts, a growing Church population, and now five young daughters. Staying true to his character Elder Groberg relies on his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to sustain him through his challenges, while he has the opportunity to extend the mission he never wanted to leave the first time around.
The Other Side of Heaven II is scheduled for release in April 2019.