See Mormon Film: Key Films of the First Wave
David Jacobs has described One Hundred of Mormonism
as the most important LDS film of the silent era for three reasons: it was the only silent film sanctioned by the Church as authentic, the only one using relics of the actual pioneer trek, and, most importantly, the only one drawing on experiences of still living pioneers.
The film came to be as a response to a slew of anti-Mormon films released in theaters in late 1911 and early 1912. Though Church leaders had investigated putting the Mormon story on film as much as two years earlier, the onslaught of these films--A Victim of the Mormons, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, Marriage or Death
, and so on--caused them to go to action and fight fire with fire. $50,000--from private investors and possibly the Church--was put into the project, and the best possible talent secured from within and outside the Church (such as director Norval McGregor, who would later cofound the Director's Guild of America).
Though not a true adaptation, the title came from a popular book written by LDS educator John Henry Evans in 1905, the centennial of Joseph Smith's birth (hence the "hundred years"). The script passed through various hands, particularly when the original production company, the Ellaye Motion Picture Company, broke its contract with the Church, claiming the institutional stipulations were too strict (it is unclear whether this was cover for the fact they had overspent their funds). The California-based Utah Moving Picture Company took the reigns and finished the project, but not without some legal challenges from the first firm's proprieters. (It was at this point that celebrated Hollywood scriptwriter Nell Shipman took over the writing at an unprecedented $2,500.) When completed it was described as the longest film to deal with a single subject (rather than a compilation of short and distinct episodes) and it has since been called the sixth "feature length" film released in the United States.
When the film premiered on February 3, 1913 at the Salt Lake Theater, local response was extremely enthusiastic, though some Church leaders seemed a bit embarrassed, particularly by the segments dealing with Joseph Smith. The later sequences featuring the founding of Utah, however, were met with wild cheers.
The film had two runs in Salt Lake City and three prints toured, with live lecturers, around the western states. More documentary footage (of the April 1913 General Conference) was shot and the film was amended slightly before attempting to go into larger release that summer. Though the extent of its distribution is unknown, there are reports of negotiations on the East Coast and London.
Given all of this effort and attention, it is a mystery how the film was lost. All that is known is that after this initial run it simply disappeared, and it remains something of a Holy Grail for LDS film historians and archivists. One Hundred Years of Mormonism
remains the greatest lost film in LDS Church history. --Randy Astle