I highly recommend the documentary “A Mormon President“. With great production, story telling and controversy this DVD tells the story of Joseph Smith’s presidential run, his introduction of polygamy and his eventual murder. In many ways the documentary is as much the story of William Law as of Jospeh Smith. I think the producers did an excellent job of laying out the facts and deftly introducing both sides of any controversy they encountered.
I felt the Smith biography “Rough Stone Rolling” served as a template for the narrative of the documentary, but the film made fewer speculative judgement calls for what must have been motivating Joseph Smith in the last year of his life. Additionally the documentary was able to boil down the key events of 1844 into a 60 minute presentation. It’s so much more consumable and explanatory than most of the evenly-toned presentations of Joseph Smith’s life. A resource that honestly tells Smith’s story without skewing too positively or too negatively was desperately needed and I think “A Mormon President” hits the mark.
The commentators will be familiar to many Mormons and include both faithful voices (including a BYU historian and Richard Bushman) and critics but neither is given any favorable weight. I thought you could easily distinguish what may be motivating their bias as they reflected on the events.
In addition the DVD includes some bonus features that are well worth the time to view. They include a segment of Mormons defending their faith and the feasibility of a Mormon president and a segment of non-Mormons (most of them Evangelical critics of Mormonism) discussing why they don’t think America should elect a Mormon). I thought both segments introduced the basic arguments each side makes. My one criticism is that I don’t recall any Evangelical (or non-Mormon) making an argument for why it would be okay to elect a Mormon. At one point it seemed the producers needed to scare up some dissenting voices and decided the easiest way to find voters opposed to a Mormon presidency was to film some interviews in a backwoods, Arkansas bar. I’d hate for those brief interviews in the bonus section to dissuade anyone from viewing the DVD though.
If you get a chance to see “A Mormon President” I think you should make the effort.