Film director making a stop in eastern Idaho to premiere new Latter-Day Saint western film
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IDAHO FALLS – It’s the winter of 1839. Joseph Smith, the first leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his companions are sitting in a jail cell in Liberty, Missouri on charges of treason and murder.
Local jailer Samuel Tilery is tasked with watching the state’s most wanted men as they await a court hearing.
During their imprisonment, public tension rises. Mobs seeking vigilante justice come together to try and remove the prisoners by force in order to execute them.
“You got the most hated men in Missouri in there,” one man says to Tilery in a trailer for a new movie chronicling the story.
“How long you gonna keep protecting them, Sam?,” says another man.
Tilery, caught between the locals’ desire to remove the prisoners and the prisoners’ efforts to survive, now faces threats against his own life and decides to take matters into his own hands.
With his six-gun a blazing, Tilery stands his ground and faces the men head-on.
“My job is to keep the prisoners ’til justice can run its course,” an actor portraying Tillery says. “Any man who has a problem with that can take it up with me.”
That’s the premise for “Out of Liberty,” a new western film premiering in theaters throughout eastern Idaho this weekend. The story takes place during the earlier days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Missouri.
“This is a very true story set against the backdrop of a small midwestern town in Missouri that explores one man’s commitment to fulfill his duty with honor and integrity despite the constant pressure from his friends and local townsfolk to do the opposite,” Garrett Batty, the film’s writer and director, says in a news release.
Batty’s previous projects include titles like “The Saratov Approach” and “Freetown.” He tells EastIdahoNews.com he’s always wanted to make a western, and felt this was a compelling story to tell because of its relevance in today’s world.
“In this day and age, there’s a lot of divisiveness, a lot of disagreement, and frankly, a lot of picking sides,” says Batty. “From researching this, there’s a lot to be learned by saying, ‘How do we disagree, but do so in a civil way that allows us to still maintain our humanity?'”
Though “Out of Liberty” is being heavily promoted as a western, there are elements of the plot that involve faith and religion. Joseph Smith and the other prisoners portrayed in the movie are well-known figures in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In an effort to make this film appealing to a broad audience, the filmmakers chose to make Tilery the center of the story.
“A lot of films that are made in the LDS film genre start out with the objective of being a faith-promoting film… and it often backfires because it can seem preachy or manipulative,” says Casey Elliott, one of the film’s stars. “This is a great example of a film that does it the right way.”
Elliott, known to music fans as one of the singers for Gentri, portrays Joseph’s brother Hyrum in the film. He worked with Batty several years prior during the filming of a Gentri music video. Around the same time, Elliott’s father wrote the film score on Batty’s previous films, and that’s how his role came about.
Listen to our conversation with Elliott in the video player above.
Brandon Ray Olive, who plays Joseph Smith in the movie, says he was surprised by Batty’s decision to cast him for the part because the two do not share a faith in common.
“If you make a film like this, everyone on the project tends to be like-minded,” Ray Olive says. “The traditional approach is to have someone of the faith step in there (and do it).”
Ray Olive says he was reluctant to take the part initially knowing how familiar and beloved Joseph Smith is to members of the church.
“For many years, Joseph has been portrayed by many different people, but in a pretty similar fashion. It gave me an opportunity to lean into something that I knew very little about,” Ray Olive says. “I didn’t grow up knowing what happened at Liberty Jail, and I was a little outraged by it because I felt it was a part of American history that people deserved to know about.”
As an outsider learning who Joseph Smith is for the first time, Ray Olive hopes his portrayal offers a fresh perspective that helps people see Smith in a different way.
“We’re showing Joseph at a time when he is seemingly at his lowest,” Ray Olive says. “He has a lot going on internally that probably would conflict with a lot of the idealistic, mythologized portrayals of Joseph.”
Nothing about this movie is preachy, Elliott says. All references to the character’s beliefs make complete sense in the context of the story, and those outside the faith will look at this film as a legitimately good western, he says.
“Out of Liberty” has been playing in theaters throughout Utah for the last month, and Batty says he’s pleased with how it’s been received.
“We’ve been very pleased with the critical response,” Batty says. “The nature of the film draws Latter-day Saint audiences but critics have praised it for being accessible to anybody. I’m excited for people to see it.”
Ray Olive says “Out of Liberty” is relevant to everyone, regardless of religious views, and those who choose to see it will not be disappointed.
“It’s a real movie and it holds up with any movie out there specifically because of the approach they decided to take,” Ray Olive says. “I’m probably most fond of this film than anything I’ve ever done.”
“Out of Liberty” stars Jasen Wade as Samuel Tilery. It is rated PG and opens this Friday in Blackfoot, Idaho Falls and Rexburg. A premiere event with Batty is planned in connection with the film’s release. He’ll be at the Centre Twin in Idaho Falls Friday for a Q&A immediately following the 7 p.m. show. He’ll also be at the Blackfoot Movie Mill on Saturday afternoon for the 4:20 showing. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the website.