‘Trek: The Movie’ depicts triumphs, trials of classic LDS pioneer activity
Three days, 150 teenagers and a whole lot of wilderness — what could possibly go wrong?
A new Deseret Book film set to open in theaters Friday aims to encapsulate the ups and downs of the pioneer trek experience that is part of the upbringing of many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During the traditional activity, LDS youths and leaders dress up in 1800s-era clothing and reenact the 19th-century Mormon migration to the Western United States by pulling handcarts through the desert.
“I’m grateful for this movie for tackling a piece of our culture that seems a little bit silly or a little bit odd but is actually deeply important,” said Arthur VanWagenen, product director for film at Deseret Book and Excel Entertainment, at the movie’s LDS Film Festival premiere on March 2. “I think this film might be the most subtly and deceptively important film that we’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“ Trek: The Movie ” centers on Tom, a young member of the LDS Church in the midst of a faith crisis. Tom hesitantly agrees to participate in his congregation’s pioneer trek in exchange for a ski pass from his dad, but ends up learning some important lessons during the journey.
“He’s had an experience in his life that’s kind of rattled his world, and he’s trying to figure out what is real,” director Alan Peterson said at an LDS Film Festival panel. “It’s about his journey through a spiritual experience that helps him put that in focus.”
Writer and co-director David Howard, who also wrote the story of the 1999 film “Galaxy Quest,” said at the panel he wrote Tom’s part to confront some of the realities that young members of the LDS Church face on a daily basis as they reconcile their beliefs with what they experience in the rest of the world.
“It seems like those realities and our lifestyle, they seem to be getting further and further apart, and it’s hard for young people to bridge those two things,” Howard said. “I thought this was a really wonderful opportunity to explore that.”
At the same time, the filmmakers did not set out to make an overtly spiritual film, Peterson told the Daily Herald.
“We just wanted to tell a story that would help people ignite that spark again if they hadn’t felt that spark of spirituality in their lives,” Peterson said.
The film also has its share of comedy, including a leader’s struggle to load several cartons of oranges for the trek into her car, a skunk’s infiltration of the group’s campsite and a young man who stops at nothing to find and smuggle in treats.
Howard said the original inspiration for “Trek” came from three of his friends, who had the idea to try to create an LDS film that felt like a project from John Hughes, who wrote films like “Mr. Mom,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Home Alone” and “Flubber.”
“I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll do that,’ and I was pretty busy at the time, so I connected with my friend John Enos, and we wrote it together,” Howard said at the panel. “That was … a long time ago, and the producing entity that was going to do that fell apart, as often happens, and so the script just kind of sat on my hard drive for 10 years or so.”
Then one day, Peterson, who had read the script some time earlier, remembered “Trek” as he sat in a sacrament meeting listening to his son speak about his experience on a stake pioneer trek activity.
“As I’m sitting there, I’m going, ‘Man, this would make a really good movie. Wait a minute, I’ve got a script,’ ” Peterson said at the panel. “So I went back and I dug up the script, and I talked to David and found out if he’d done anything on it since then.”
One of the challenges of making the film was the weather, which Peterson described at the panel as “hotter than the hinges of Hades.” The movie’s 177 scenes were filmed in a 15-day period last year in the middle of the summer in Utah. But Peterson said the desert landscape made for a beautiful background.
“We shot it all here in Utah, and except for the Moab stuff, it was all within about 45 minutes of downtown Salt Lake,” Peterson told the Daily Herald. “Utah’s a wonderful place to work and film; so many great vistas, great places to shoot and just wonderful talent.”
The new film will include music from local bands, including Shrink the Giant, whose frontwoman Stefania Barr also plays the “Trek” female lead role, Anna McDowell.
“The music scene here is just as vibrant as the film scene, and we were really fortunate to take advantage of some of the great, great local artists here in the music world,” Peterson said at the movie’s premiere.
The director hopes viewers will enjoy and be positively impacted by “Trek.”
“I hope they come out and have a good time, and that it makes them think a little bit and it makes them consider their own lives a little,” Peterson said.