Interview with documentary film-maker Brian F. Patrick
Brian F. Patrick is the director of the award-winning documentary Burying the Past, which will be shown at the Flood Street Theater in St. George at 7 p.m. September 9, and at 7 p.m. at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City on September 11.
Main Street Plaza: Is your documentary sometimes perceived as “anti-Mormon”, and, if so, how do you react to that charge?
Brian F. Patrick: Anytime that you mention the “Mountain Meadows Massacre” to Mormons it is usually viewed as an attack against them and their church—Mormon bashing. This is a topic that if they do know about (and many do not) they certainly do not want to discuss, especially with gentiles. It is like not wanting to talk about the elephant in the room, which is really impossible, especially with all the books and films that have come out recently. And of course, this Sept. 11th is the 150 anniversary of the massacre. But most Mormons who see my film view it as mostly balanced and fair — and it has that reputation. I’m not Mormon, but I would never make a film that is one sided propaganda — like September Dawn, for example. I’m more interested in the fascinating complexities of the truth within the human story of the event. So while some “Old Guard” Mormons may see my film is another attack against them and the LDS Church as at the “Spudfest Film Festival” in Southern Idaho where a group threaten to picket and boycott the festival if my film was shown, most are open to see what the film shows and says first. I have been invited several times to show the film to Mormon groups and even reunions of the descendants of the perpetrators and I believe that these groups react very emotionally, but not in a threatened manner. I believe that is why the film won so many awards, that it is in the end, a difficult subject that is handled in a sensitive, truthful, humanistic way.
MSP: You’ve said that September Dawn was inspired by your film — can you explain the connection between the two films, and what you think of September Dawn?
BFP: My connection to Sept. Dawn goes back to Oct. 2004 when I showed my film at the ARPA Film Festival in Hollywood., and where the Master of Ceremonies, Dean Cain, of television Superman fame, saw the film and quickly ordered of copy. Nine months later I learned that Dean and his father, Chris Cain (who directed Young Guns) were shooting their version of the massacre story in Calgary, Canada. I believe that they basically took my film (probably with some other available books on the subject) and used it to write their own scenario entitled September Dawn with never the courtesy to contact me. It was my final wake-up call to the dark side of how Hollywood does business. In May of 2006, their new marketing agent, Murray Weisman, contacted me and apologized for the way I had been dealt with. He flew me out to Burbank where I saw September Dawn for the first time. While watching the film I noted how it contained unmistakable elements of my film which could have only been arrived at with the viewing of Burying the Past. I also noted though, that unlike my film, September Dawn seem to me as unnecessarily mean-spirited towards Mormons. Afterward at lunch, Murray and Chris Cain discussed the idea of me giving them material out of my film to help them authenticate their film for their marketing strategies. They explained how this excellent idea would lead to more exposure and help sell more DVD’s of Burying the Past. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that they did not to pay me much for the use of my film or really want to help me at all and very likely were more concerned with copyright issues and that by giving them parts of my film, I could no longer have these issues to lay claim to. They especially did not want to give me any credit as the original inspiration to their film. Yet, after seeing their film twice now, there do appear to be legitimate claims as to where the film’s original inspiration came from, the use of specific story lines — like the $2,000 horse sub-plot and sequence, along with use of an original story structure of the little girl who survives the massacre.
Frankly, I am very relieved now that I did not get involved with the marketing strategy of September Dawn. I am very happy that my film, Burying the Past, is not attached to their film. I see September Dawn as a film that is a very mean-spirited, superficial rendering of a deeply complex, historical story. In fact, I believe that film’s main misgivings are that it does not treat the subject with the respect that it deserves and the film is seemingly used it as a vehicle to attack Mormonism while it exploits the obvious violence of the actual tragic event. Further, September Dawn bares only a slight resemblance to the facts of the actual massacre, the events that led up to it, and contains nothing of what happened afterward. Most of it is a work of hard-to-believe fiction with a very noticeable agenda of Christian Right verses evil Mormonism tossed in. It is a very one sided piece of film propaganda and the actual writing of the story is embarrassingly bad — laughable at times, even. In the end, this is why I was thankful that I did not get lassoed into cooperating and getting involved with their marketing plan and attaching my name to this disappointing film. It is too bad, really, because they had an opportunity to tell the Mountain Meadows Massacre story with the depth that it really deserves.
MSP: What were your biggest challenges in researching and producing this documentary?
BFP: I think that the biggest challenge in making Burying the Past was dealing with all the different factions of people that had personal invested interest in their positive outcome in the film. Some people were wonderful and open to work with and others were very private and even life threatening once I got involved with them. Perhaps they thought that I was going to make a film that was purely one-sided and would make them good — or bad. But it was very difficult juggling their efforts to influence the over-all outcome of the film. I had to find ways to get the truth of the matter without giving up too much information to the subjects in the process. There are some people who I was very close to and they took me into their lives, who now, after seeing the film will not give me the time of day. I suspect that those people expected a more favorable presentation that was devoted to their personal agenda getting into the film more than what they received. But I told everyone that this was a documentary and that I was searching for the truth, such as it was, and that it was not about just a simple, positive story of the Mormon Church rebuilding an old massacre monument or the two groups of descendants getting together and just shaking hands. Those were just two main ideas that I started with that allowed me into something much, much deeper and profound. So dealing with all the personalities from the descendants organizations, to the LDS Church, to the individuals who would call late in the night, it was quite a challenge to get them to back off, yet still maintain their faith in me so I could make a film that contained all the elements that I wanted.
MSP: What has the reaction to your film been like so far?
BFP: Actually, I could not be more pleased to the reactions of the film. I have hundreds of e-mails from people all over the world who have profusely thanked me for making this film. Not because they see it as an blessed attack against their despised LDS Church, but because the film is much deeper than that and it shows a very complex subject that few people know about in way that is fair, yet very revealing. I have shown the film many times to people and descendants back in Arkansas. These people watch it over and over again because this is the first film to actually give them a voice in this tragic, horrible story, because all other versions of this tale have really
come from Utah and have never included the Arkansas side of the story. On the other hand, I have been invited to Mormon events to show the film, too. Last June I was invited to the Adair Family Reunion in Pine Valley, Utah (about 15 miles from the Meadows) to show the film to about 100 descendants of George Adair, who was one of the men responsible for the killings. When I showed the film the atmosphere was as thick as you can imagine. People openly wept in the audience. One man stood up and declared, “We did it. Why can’t we just apologize?” It must have been very difficult for them to confront their heritage which is forever attached to that horrific event, yet afterward people hugged me and thanked me for showing the film. Later, I went to the Meadows with a group that wanted to visit the Monument and they gave some heartfelt statements to me and my camera. These have been some of the most memorable times for me in showing the film, but it also showed to me that I was fortunate to create a film that all sides of this tragic event can find something of great value in it for them and not just dismiss it as hateful, mean-spirited, propaganda. As with all my films, that was a goal from the beginning and I hope that this film eventually contributes to true reconciliation and healing for all the descendants of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Here is my “Director’s Statement.”
“Burying The Past” took me six years to complete. I came upon the idea when I saw an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about these age-old enemies who were attempting to forgive each other. With all of these warring factions in the world today and the cycle of vengeance they perpetuate, it was inspiring to me to see an attempt at reconciliation. It was the humanity of the story which I found in the descendants of the massacre that I was drawn to, and wanted to bring out. I think that the film shows how difficult it is for opposing cultural groups to come together.
I feel very strongly that this is a story that deserves to be told. The chilling significance of the “September 11th” date of the Mountain Meadows Massacre is also difficult to ignore. Many people have never learned of this tragic event. It is an event that has been kept out of history books, that is not taught to children in schools, even though it is the biggest American massacres before Oklahoma City, and one of the most despicable crimes in the history of the West. It was a difficult and risky film to make in Utah — what took place at Mountain Meadows is still shrouded in controversy, and many people would prefer that the massacre remain forgotten. The truth of what happened has been obscured by the Mormon Church’s cover up, but events unfold in the film revealing evidence that is hard to deny. I’m very proud that the film captures some of the most powerful, documented evidence of what really happened at Mountain Meadows one hundred and forty seven years ago.
It has been quite an incredible journey with this film. I have traveled to many film festivals and taken it around the country introducing the story to audiences for the first time, and have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from people who have been moved or changed by film’s story. I have also been fortunate to show the film to the descendants of the victims for many years every anniversary of the massacre on September 11 when they gather from around the country in Harrison, Arkansas where the wagon train party originated from. When these people respond so emotionally to the film it makes me feel like I really accomplished something. It was very important to me to show the point of view of the Arkansas people in that wagon train, and I think for these people, the film has given them a voice that has never been seen or heard before. I have also been invited to show the film to family reunions of the descendants perpetrators, and have had very emotional, powerful screenings where it felt as though healing was finally beginning to take place for them. The way the descendants of the attackers respond to the film reveal how much pain they still carry with them. In the end, the story of how these two groups came together in a spirit of reconciliation was at the core of why I made the film in the first place. I hope you find the story as fascinating as I have while making it.
Brian Patrick, Producer/Director
“Burying the Past”
For more information, please see the Burying The Past website.