No, this post is not about a Richard Dutcher movie (though Brigham City was interesting and well-acted). I am referring to Tasha Oldham’s remarkable documentary, “The Smith Family.”
I stumbled across “The Smith Family” late one night on “thirteen” — New York City’s PBS station. It is a documentary about a Mormon family (Steve, Kim, and two teenage sons) in Salt Lake City. Steve came out as gay (and actively so) on the couple’s ninth anniversary. Three years later, Kim was diagnosed as HIV positive. Steve eventually contracts full-blown AIDS.
The film centers on Kim’s decision to stay married to and support Steve, and her attempt to deal with both the personal devastation resulting from Steve’s actions, and the real world difficulty of caring for a dying spouse. I have rarely seen a more powerful portrait of what it means to forgive and love, even when the task would seem impossible.
While Steve struggles mightily with his belief in Mormonism, Kim and her sons remain faithfully involved in the Church. One of the more touching scenes is the older boy’s missionary farewell, and Steve’s participation in that event. Oldham somehow is granted access to the most personal, intimate moments in the family’s life, and each of the family members reveals their own thoughts in interviews. But Oldham deftly avoids becoming maudlin or voyeuristic. It compares well to great documentaries such as Hoop Dreams and Fighter. In all three, the story ends up in a far different place than the filmmaker imagined.
The film is an affirmation of the possibility of love, unity, and faith in God even in the throes of physical and emotional upheaval. Its truly an astonishing and inspirational document, and I cannot think of a film made by a Mormon or about Mormons that comes close to achieving what “The Smith Family” does.
Look for it on your local PBS station, as part of their “P.O.V.” series. Unfortunately, for now the movie is only available for purchase on VHS through Small Town Productions. I have heard that a DVD may be forthcoming.