Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith opens next Friday (June 28). Rated PG-13.

Synopsis: A Mormon missionary family in 1960’s Tonga faces the ultimate test of faith when their newborn baby boy falls critically ill and they are forced to rely on the love and prayers of thousands of Tongans of all denominations to save his life. Barriers of inter-religious strife are broken down as an entire nation unites in hope of a miracle that will save the baby’s life, as well as that of a Tongan minister’s son who is in a coma in an adjacent hospital room. The film is based on a true story.

The first Other Side of Heaven movie premiered in 2001 and is notable both for being Anne Hathaway’s first feature film and for helping blaze a trail for the modern era of successful faith-themed films.  After its theatrical run, Disney picked it up and sold over four-million DVDs.

Though Hathaway doesn’t appear in the sequel,Christopher Gorham (of TV’s Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs) reprises his role as Mormon missionary John Groberg. His wife is played by New Zealand actress Natalie Medlock.

The movie is from Two Road Productions which was founded in 1995 by writer-director Mitch Davis who also made the original movie. Davis’ other credits include 2015’s holiday comedy Christmas Eve starring Patrick Stewart, Gary Cole, James Roday and Cheryl Hines and 2017’s The Stray (a very personal film about his family and their pet dog Pluto). Davis also wearing three hats as producer, director and writer of The Other Side of Heaven 2. I recently had the opportunity to speak with him about the long-awaited sequel.

JWK: When you released the original Other Side of Heaven film in 2001, did you do so with a sequel in mind?

Mitch Davis:  I was not ever intending to do a sequel. I certainly did not want to make a low-budget sequel.  If there was going to be a sequel it had to be of the cinematic quality the story deserved. Only relatively recently did I find a formula for doing that. We were able to make the movie in Fiji which we dressed to look like Tonga where the story is based. Thanks to a combination of a 47 percent Fiji production rebate which basically reimbursed us about half the film’s production cost and the strength of US currency which goes twice as far in Fiji we, in effect, pretty much quadrupled our budget. Fiji is now a big production hub.  The movie Adrift was shot there, among others.

JWK: So, how does the sequel differ from the first film?

MD: In the first movie, the Mormon missionary John Groberg, played wonderfully by Christopher Gorham who happens to be a Catholic, was in Tonga in the 195o’s as a single man with no family. In the second film, he returns to Tonga in the 1960’s with a wife and five young daughters.

JWK: How have things changed?

MD: Things haven’t changed much in Tonga but this time Elder Groberg sees things through the eyes of his wife and daughters. As a result, he moves with more caution. Having a wife and children to be concerned about just magnifies the drama of all his experiences. Going back to Tonga a second time wouldn’t, in and of itself, be that much of a stretch for Groberg but going back with six other people in tow is another story. It just makes everything so much more dramatic and, in some ways, more poignant. There’s a point in the story where one of the children is very sick and they’re stuck on the island without proper medical care to heal him. They are really forced to rely on their faith in God. Everyone on the island was praying for them, including the royal family. This is a true story of the fire of faith. It’s about what happens when people of diverse religious traditions lock arms and support each other in faith.

JWK: What do you hope audiences take from this movie?

MD: Just that – the power of faith. A lot of forces threaten to pull us all apart in this world – but if we unconditionally love and support each other we can make it through. This movie shows how people of different faiths and cultures can come together in faith in one God and accomplish miracles.

JWK: What was it like shooting in Fiji. Any anecdotes you’d like to share? 

MD: The first day of principal photography in Fiji, a cyclone hit the country and was headed straight for our movie set. The entire cast and crew – many people of different denominations – prayed together. Wouldn’t you know, the storm did a u-turn and blew itself out to sea. To me that shows that when we lock arms we are so much stronger than when we wave our fists at each other.

JWK: How has the film tested with general audiences?

MD: I’ve worked on many other feature films but this one has really gone off the charts in terms of its very positive audience reaction. It’s almost scary how much people like it and how profoundly they’re effected by it.  I’m very pleased with that.

JWK:  Have you shown it to any Evangelical leaders?  If so, what was their response? 

MD:  We showed it a Fuller Seminary in Pasadena a few days ago.  Dr. Richard Mouw, the Emeritus President of the seminary, got up afterwards and he said, “This movie is a feast for the eyes, as well as the heart.  We will pray that God will bless it and its testimony.”  My heart was filled by his kind words.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11