ST. GEORGE – LDS filmmaker T.C. Christensen, whose recent work includes the Mormon pioneer film “17 Miracles,” was in Southern Utah Saturday for a preview screening of his newest film, “Ephraim’s Rescue.” The film centers on incidents from the life of Ephraim Hanks, the primary one being his involvement in the rescue of the ill-fated Martin handcart company.
“Ephraim’s Rescue” follows the same vein as “17 Miracles” in its portrayal of the pioneer-period of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, it is not a sequel, Christensen said.
Ephraim Hanks, portrayed by Darin Southam, was originally to be featured in “17 Miracles” as a part of the rescue of the handcart company, but Christensen did not end up putting Hanks in the film. Instead, intrigued by Hanks’ history, Christensen soon concluded the little-known figure from LDS pioneer history had a story worth telling.
“This guy is his own film,” Christensen said.
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Who is Ephraim Hanks?
“He’s not very well-known,” Christensen said. “He deserves to be known.”
Hanks is known to have kept two journals during his life, Christensen said, but those have been lost to history. The only reason anyone knows anything about Hanks’ life is because an LDS church historian recorded the man’s life story before his death. There are also glimpses into his life from accounts kept by others who interacted with him.
Hanks converted to the LDS church in Ohio in the 1840s. When the church and its people moved west, Hanks followed suit and ended up becoming a part of the Mormon Battalion. Later he served as a mail carrier with the Pony Express between Salt Lake City and St. Louis. While mentioned in “Ephraim’s Rescue,” they are not a focal point of the films. Rather, Christensen said it was the way the man lived his life that caught his attention.
“He lived his life in a way that created a few lessons,” Christensen said.
The film portrays Hanks as a man who believed he needed to be ready and worthy when the call to serve others came. He is also described as a man with a “gift for healing,” and the film opens with an example of this trait as an aged Hanks uses it to help a young married woman.
Hanks was also one of the first people to reach the beleaguered Martin handcart company and bring supplies to the survivors after LDS prophet Brigham Young asked for volunteers to go and rescue them. It is during this segment of Hanks’ life the film focuses on the most. He brings buffalo meat to the company, and is once more portrayed as healing others.
During an exchange of dialogue in the film between Hanks and a female member of the Martin company, she calls him a holy man, to which Hanks replies he is a man with many flaws – yet he tries.
“All the things (the audience) sees happened to one man,” Christensen said. “It’s incredible someone can have that amazing a life.”
The film pays homage to Hanks’ apparent sense of humor as well, as evidenced through a recurring joke that pokes fun at a particular LDS religious practice of the day.
As “Ephraim’s Rescue” is not a documentary, but a movie, Christensen said he had to take a little creative license with dialogue and interactions between Hanks and other historical figures.
Christensen said he hopes people who see “Ephraim’s Rescue” will come away entertained and learning something from Hanks’ life.
“(Hanks) did a lot of things that would benefit anyone,” he said.
Remarking on the film’s production, Christensen joked his crew hates him now for making them work in the mountains during winter. While the production staff was cold, he said, it was worse for the extras and actors who were in the Martin handcart company. They were made to wear thin pioneer-period clothing and were freezing during the filming, Christensen said.
Some of the extras were even descendants of Ephraim Hanks, he said. And though they were cold they stuck with the project. Christensen said they told him, “(Our) ancestors did this for real.”
Hanks “has a great posterity,” Christensen said, and the family was involved a great deal during the filming. He said the family also likes the film, believing it to be “in the spirit of Ephraim Hanks.”
As for the film’s appeal, Christensen said “Ephraim’s Rescue” was definitely made for a target audience – that being LDS Church members in particular.
“It’s not much of a crossover film,” Christensen said. He wasn’t necessarily looking beyond his target audience when making “Ephraim’s Rescue.”
“When you try to make (a film) for everybody, you make it for nobody,” he said.
Speaking on Hanks again, Christensen once more called him an amazing man who made a huge difference for many people throughout his life. Only a handful of what Hanks experienced is covered by the film, he said.
As the official movie synopsis puts it, Ephraim Hanks was “a simple man who was called to do the work of angels.”
“Ephraim’s Miracle” opens May 31 in select theaters.
- T.C. Christensen: the man, the movies, and stories that matter – Deseret News
- Martin Handcart Company, Sweet Water, Wyo. – A painting and description of the events surrounding the Martin handcart company. - LDS.org
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