By Robert Kirby,
Forty years ago, I dragged a film production around South America while serving an LDS Church mission. “Man’s Search for Happiness” was originally created for showing in the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, but was subsequently reduced to a film strip for missionary proselytizing purposes.
The film featured the LDS concept of salvation as lived by a “typical” Mormon family. My senior companions and I probably showed the film strip to 5,000 people. It was okay at first, but I soon got to the point where it made me uncomfortable. Eventually I hated it.
“Man’s Search” had a decent enough message–use your time on Earth wisely and you’ll go to heaven and meet your loved ones. What I found increasingly disturbing wasn’t the message per se, but rather where it was filmed versus where it was shown. It probably didn’t seem out of place at the New York World’s Fair, but it played a bit differently on a cinder block wall in a South American hovel.
By South American standards, the Mormons portrayed in the film were fabulously wealthy. It was a little disingenuous to show that film strip in squalid apartments, dirt-floor homes, and places where people weren’t sure they were going to have food next week. Sometimes we had to show the film strip with a flashlight because they didn’t even have electricity.
One evening, after a showing to a large family living in what would be a storage shed in Utah, the father turned to me and said it all. “Those people don’t need to worry about going to heaven,” he said. “They already live there.”
I was made a senior companion a few weeks later. The day after that, in what would become my first movie review, our film projector fell into the canal.