BYU School of Communications professor Kevin Kelly’s film “I Saw the Hosts of the Dead” is being heralded, and a shortened version of the film will play on BYUtv during General Conference weekend.
The inspiration? It came as he was reading an Ensign article about about Joseph F. Smith’s vision by former BYU professor George S. Tate.
As he learned more about the revelation and the context in which it was received, the idea for a film was born.
He told the Daily Universe:
“I had no idea what was really going on at the time of the vision, it was such a startling thing to know,” said Kelly. “We read the scriptures, but putting it into context, it made a lot of sense why it was so significant and so important, especially at that time.”
Last year marked a century since Smith’s historic vision. Kelly hopes the film helps individuals gain a better appreciation for the vision as church members celebrate its 100th anniversary.
“I Saw the Hosts” of the dead is a documentary mixed with live action that explores Smith’s vision and the background behind it. Throughout his life, Smith had become closely acquainted with the reality of death from the murder of his father Hyrum Smith to the death of his son just months before the vision.
Smith’s personal grief coincided with the unprecedented number of dead (between 70-120 million) as the result of World War I and an international epidemic of influenza, all setting the stage for Smith’s vision in 1918.
The first interview that Kelly and his film crew were able to get for the film was with one of Smith’s great grandsons: President M. Russell Ballard.
One of the film’s directors, BYU film student Barrett Burgin, proposed the idea of a live-action depiction. Kelly said that despite his initial trepidation, he fell in love with the idea after Burgin shared his vision for the scene.
“One of the most memorable experiences for me was filming our spirit world scene on Bonneville Salt Flats,” said Burgin. “The Flats flooded, giving the location a sort of sea of glass aesthetic. The visual was pretty stunning.”
The premiere of the shortened version of the film during General Conference weekend will be the end of a long journey for the film’s crew.