The Mission:

The documentary “The Mission” by Tania Anderson shows the inner life of a group of young missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who leave their home country for the first time and travel to the other side of the world to try to convert some of the most unreligious, closed and sceptical people in Europe, the Finns, to their faith.

Every year, over 60,000 missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (abbreviated to LDS, usually referred to as Mormons) are sent around the world to share their gospel. “The Mission” follows four American LDS teenagers who have received a mission from God that takes them from their families and the safety of their remote, religion-filled bubbles to the icy, forested reaches of Finland, home to the least religious, most closed-minded and sceptical people in Europe.

The journey they embark on will prove to be the most emotionally and psychologically difficult time of their young lives. As these wide-eyed, passionate teenagers struggle with the absence of their families, language hurdles, aching feet and daily rejection, they are pushed beyond their limits and fall deeper and deeper into their faith.

About director Tania Anderson

Tania Anderson is a British-American-Swiss filmmaker living in Helsinki, Finland. She has also worked as a writer and journalist and has over 10 years’ experience in the media industry, most recently as a writer for National Geographic, where she discovered her passion for telling the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. A conversation she overheard between two young missionaries in dark, wintry Finland gave her the idea for “The Mission“, her first feature-length documentary.

About the producer Isabella Karhu and Juho-Pekka Tanskanen

Danish Bear Productions is a Finnish film production company founded in 2015 by award-winning filmmakers Isabella Karhu and Juho-Pekka Tanskanen. The company specialises in producing artistic and creative films, and their work has been screened at film festivals around the world. Their latest feature-length documentary, Waiting for Barcelona, had its world premiere at CPH:DOX in 2018, was nominated for the Finnish National Film Award for Best Documentary 2019 and is currently available on Netflix across Europe.

Original Title: The Mission

Director: Tania Anderson

Cinematography: Antti Savolainen

Editing: Suvi Solja

Sound: Janis Grossmann-Alhambra, Isa Köroglu

Music: Mikko Joensuu

 

Production companies: Danish Bear Productions, Dirk Manthey Film

Produder: Isabella Karhu, Juho-Pekka Tanskanen

Co-producer: Dirk Manthey

Year of production: 2022

Genre: Documentary

Countries: Finland, Germany

 

Lenght: 96 Min.

Rating: FSK: 6

Aspect ratio: Cinemascope (21:9)

Sound: Stereo

Resolution: 2K

Word premiere: 

Sundance Film Festival 2022

Film label: NONFY Documentaries

Distribution: UCM.ONE

 

Theatrical release: March 03, 2023

About the coproducer Dirk Manthey

Dirk Manthey Film was founded in 2000 by Dirk Manthey and is based in Hamburg, Germany. The company focuses on the development and production of national and international documentaries that have both a social and an artistic relevance. Its aim is to tell stories that touch audiences on a deeper level and reach beyond the screen. The strong presence of the films he has developed, and produced, at renowned German and international film festivals and their great resonance are proof of the great demand for films with a strong voice and attitude of their own.

Director statement by Tania Anderson

The Mission” is the first time in its history that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has allowed a film crew to film young missionaries throughout their missionary years – from their nervous farewells as they leave home (some for the very first time) to their return as triumphant conquerors with “missionary glory” or as psychologically exhausted fallen heroes.

What happens to these young people during their two-year mission? How do these young people carry the burden of their church’s secure future – and their souls – on their shoulders while dealing with daily rejection in a modern, increasingly atheistic world?

My goal with this film was to connect with the vulnerable teenager behind the religious suit, the person behind the missionary. I shot in a cinéma vérité style and wanted the audience to be at eye level with the missionaries, which is sometimes uncomfortably close.

The intimacy of the film allows us to capture how young LDS missionaries see and experience everyday life, and to gain insight into the well-functioning institution that operates and supports the sending of tens of thousands of young people to the four corners of the world to serve the locals and share their sacred text, the Book of Mormon.

At the heart of the film process – from planning to post-production – was the principle of “equality” with the actors as well as with all the people behind the scenes. The crew approached this project with a childlike curiosity to discover and share what it is like to walk around with a pair of well-shined leather shoes and a sacred mission on their shoulders; to simply create a space for these ordinary young people to be seen and heard for who they are.

The idea for this film came from a chance encounter in 2016. I was taking a walk in the cold and pitch-black Finnish November, pushing my young son in his buggy. I happened to pass two young men who spoke English. I immediately recognised their suits and wanted to move on before they saw me and did something. But they were engrossed in conversation and warned of the “temptation lurking everywhere”. Overhearing this conversation, I was privy to a more vulnerable side of LDS missionaries that I had never seen before. For the first time, I could see beyond the clothing that so clearly marks them as representatives of their church. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of two unique 18-year-olds with high hopes and deep fears, trying to block out the coldness and mundanity of life – not unlike myself (except for our age, of course). From then on, my curiosity about missionaries and the nature of their mission grew: where do missionaries stay when they are not on the road? Do they ever take breaks? What do they talk about when they are not talking to passers-by about the Book of Mormon? How do they experience normal Finnish life? What makes them tick?

And so began the concept for the documentary, which led to an 18-month process about a year later to gain access to LDS missionaries by first talking with Church authorities in Finland, with the local mission president, and then with the missions department at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The next group of missionaries travelling to Finland was “unveiled” in late winter 2019, after which the Church approached them with the film idea. After talking to all the young people in this new group, we finally chose four protagonists whose backgrounds and personalities complemented each other in a way that allowed us to tell different sides of the missionaries’ journey.

The concept of “being a missionary” has several narrative attractions. One is the fact that this kind of religious mission is modelled on the classic Western heroic story, which goes back to ancient Greek mythology and in which the hero leaves home, faces life and returns home a changed person. Another incentive for me as a filmmaker is the fact that there are hardly any missionaries these days. The LDS Church is one of the few religions that has such an active missionary programme, and the fancy suits of the male youth in the programme can be seen all over the world.

And so began the concept for the documentary, which led to an 18-month process about a year later to gain access to LDS missionaries by first talking with Church authorities in Finland, with the local mission president, and then with the missions department at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The missionary programme is part of the legend of this religion, so to speak, because Samuel Smith, the brother of the Church’s founder Joseph Smith, is considered the Church’s first full-time missionary. The first overseas mission was launched in 1837, and today, through a rather complex system based partly on divine revelation, partly on peer pressure and partly on voluntarism, nearly 60,000 missionaries, most of them recent high school graduates, are sent out annually to the four corners of the earth to recruit new members to their faith.

Despite their recognisable attire, LDS missionaries seem to go largely unnoticed. I believe society teaches us to ignore them at best and distrust them at worst. This avoidance or lack of curiosity seems to lead us to generalise and make assumptions about who they are, why they are here, etc. And we go around with the attitude, “I know all I need to know about them – that’s all I need to know.” In a way, we isolate ourselves from them, or they from us. And this lack of curiosity/avoidance/isolation leads to fear. And this attitude, or general attitude towards others, applies not only to LDS missionaries, but to all sorts of groups of people who populate our urban landscapes – from homeless people to Wall Street traders.

So in a way, with this film, I hope to reduce the fear, the automatic distrust we have of others. That doesn’t mean we have to convert or even agree; we just don’t have to be afraid. Because when we scratch the surface, we usually discover much more in common than less.”

Missionary programme

The missionary programme of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of its best-known features. LDS missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities around the world, as well as in thousands of smaller churches. Missionary work is based on the New Testament pattern of missionaries serving in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptising believers in the name of Jesus Christ. More than 60,000 full-time missionaries serve The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most missionaries are young people under the age of 25 who serve in more than 400 missions around the world.

Missionaries work with a partner of the same sex during their mission, except for couples who work with their spouse. Single men are sent on mission for two years and single women for 18 months. Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are only sent to countries where the Church’s governments allow them to work. The missionaries do not ask about their area of assignment and do not know in advance if they need to learn a language.

Bevor sie in das ihnen zugewiesene Gebiet gehen, verbringen die Missionare eine kurze Zeit in einem der 10 Missionsausbildungszentren in der ganzen Welt. Dort lernen sie, wie sie das Evangelium in geordneter und klarer Weise lehren können, und, falls erforderlich, beginnen sie, die Sprache der Menschen zu lernen, die sie unterrichten werden. Das größte Ausbildungszentrum befindet sich in Provo, Utah, mit weiteren Zentren in Brasilien, Kolumbien, England, Ghana, Mexiko, Neuseeland, Peru, den Philippinen und Südafrika. Männliche Missionare werden mit “Elder”und weibliche mit “Sister” angesprochen. Ein typischer Missionarstag beginnt mit dem Aufstehen um 6.30 Uhr, um persönliche Studien zu betreiben. Der Tag wird von der Bekehrung ausgefüllt, zu welcher man Verabredungen nachgeht, Häuser besucht oder Menschen auf der Straße oder an anderen öffentlichen Orten anspricht und trifft. Die Missionare beenden ihren Tag um 22:30 Uhr. In einigen Teilen der Welt werden Missionare nur für humanitäre oder andere spezialisierte Einsätze entsandt. Diese Missionare betreiben keine Missionierung. Die Arbeit der Missionare ist freiwillig. Die Missionare finanzieren ihre Missionen.

Theatrical Trailer

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