Local pens screenplay about massacre
July 9, 2007
ASPEN ” In an unspoiled valley of the Utah Territory – and in the name of God – 120 men, women and children were savagely murdered.
So says the bill for a controversial film created in large part by group of Aspenites. The film is scheduled for national release on Aug. 24. It’s about how religious fanaticism and violence can fail to mix smoothly.
The film, “September Dawn,” was conceived by Carol Schutter. Christopher Cain co-wrote the screenplay with her, and produced and directed the movie. It is a fictionalized love story against the backdrop of the Mountain Meadows massacre that took place Sept. 11, 1857. The movie represents the view that Brigham Young ordered the attack, but the Mormon church maintains that he did not. Young was a Mormon leader and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It’s an extremely controversial movie,” Schutter said. “It takes place in the first act of religious terrorism in the United States.”
According to the film, Young ordered a group of Mormons from southern Utah to massacre an entire wagon train of Christians, killing everyone over 8 years old including women and children, Schutter said.
“They blamed it on the Indians for a long time,” Schutter said. “The Mormon church says it had nothing to do with it and Brigham Young had nothing to do with it.”
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Schutter, an agnostic turned Christian, has lived in Aspen for about 21 years. She said she got the idea for the movie when she was driving between Buena Vista and Salida through country that looks very much like site of the Mountain Meadows massacre. She didn’t know it at the time.
“I got this crazy idea to write a story about a pioneer woman going in a wagon train to the California gold rush, and the train gets attacked by Mormons dressed as Indians,” she said. “The idea wouldn’t leave me. I believe it was from God.”
She began doing some research.
“I came across the Mountain Meadows massacre and I was blown away,” she said. “I thought, ‘Holy cow – this isn’t made up in my mind. This is real.’ I got really into it. I cried and cried when I read about the story.”
She said she hadn’t heard about the massacre before. Maybe some random detail such as Mormons dressed as Indians, but she said she didn’t know about the story.
“Why would it just explode in my mind all of a sudden?” she said.
She then wrote the script and pitched it to Cain, who helped her develop it. The movie stars Jon Voigt, Terence Stamp, Lolita Davidovich, Trent Ford and Tamara Hope.
“As the story unfolds, a company of pioneers arrives from Arkansas. A couple of young lovers-to-be – one a Mormon, the other part of the ill-fated wagon train – meet amid a toxic atmosphere of suspicion and rancor. … All the while, the territorial governor and president of the church, Brigham Young, played by Stamp, is heard in voice-over, encouraging vengeance, violence, blood atonement and divine justice,” a New York Times article on the movie’s Web site says.
Cain says the dialogue comes from depositions that Young gave after the massacre. The movie was shot two years ago after about 1 1/2 years of work, Schutter said.
Schutter, who always wanted to be a writer, finished a book of the same name based on the movie. It recently became available on Internet sites such as http://www.amazon.com. She said the film and book are trying to show that a regular person, given the right set of circumstances and “brainwashing, you could say,” can be led to commit acts of violence like the massacre.
She thinks it’s very odd that the Mountain Meadows massacre fell on the same day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but she said people can draw their own conclusions.
“It is strange that it’s the same day, isn’t it?” she asked.