Young Mormon Moviegoers Have Faith in Real-Life Pic ‘Saratov Approach’

In just two weeks, the indie has grossed nearly $500K on only 23 screens

Writing its own box office success in the history books, “The Saratov Approach,” the real-life story of two Mormon missionaries who were kidnapped and tortured in Russia, has quietly become a local B.O. hit in heavily Mormon areas throughout Utah, grossing nearly $500,000 in two weeks on only 23 screens.

During its opening frame two weeks ago, the film, which is written and directed by Garrett Batty, averaged $11,000 per screen — the highest per-screen average for a limited release that weekend.

“Saratov Approach” has generated a groundswell of support from the Mormon community, especially Mormon teens and Brigham Young U. college students, who are touting the film on social media.

“Normally, you have moms and dads saying to their kids, ‘Come on, let’s go support our heritage,'” explained Brandon Purdie, an independent distribution consultant, who is releasing the film via his company Purdie Distribution.

“The difference with this film is that you see young audiences carrying the movie,” Purdie added.

Unlike Christian faith-based films, whose producers use ministry outreach to promote their films, Mormons do not allow promoting materials for commercial gain in their congregations.

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Instead, Purdie and producer-actor Maclain Nelson attribute the film’s word-of-mouth with younger auds primarily to the film’s real-life modern story, as opposed to the more traditional films about the Mormon religion.

“We really did our best to be as honest as possible and not to sugar-coat the story,” said Nelson, who recently held a private screening of “Saratov” for Larry King, whose wife is a devout Mormon.

The story centers on Mormon missionaries, Travis Tuttle and Andrew Propst, who made global headlines in 1998 when they were abducted, tortured and held hostage for nearly a week in Saratov, Russia.

The film expands Friday to heavily populated Mormon cities outside Utah, including Mesa, Ariz., and Boise, Idaho. Major U.S. markets such as Denver, L.A., Houston and Sacramento expand on Dec. 6.

Purdie said he anticipates “Saratov” to play at approximately 500 locations at its widest, with potential for cross-over appeal. In fact, the nation’s largest theater chains including Regal, AMC and Cinemark are requesting the film have a wider footprint based on its early success.

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  1. Is it too much to type the words “box office” or “audiences”?

    This is some sinister introduction to newspeak, or are Variety writers and editors just dumb and lazy?

  2. AI says:

    The author made a false statement when he wrote about Mormons being different from Christians in that they are not allowed to promote films “for commercial gain” in their congregations. News flash: Christian moviegoers promote films we are excited about the same way every other person does, and also the same way the Mormons do: by word of mouth. Word of mouth can either be in person, on the phone, or on some sort of social media, such as the Mormon woman shown in the article who tweeted about the Mormon movie she liked.

    • Jim says:

      The statement is true that promotions for commercial gain are not announced in church meetings, but members of the congregation are completely free to promote among themselves individually whatever they want. I have been to other services where announcements are made that have a commercial focus.

  3. Brian says:

    They should do the Mountain Meadow Massacre Approach

  4. Solidspin says:

    Russia sounds almost as dangerous as LA, get those Mormons out of Russia, send them some where safer.

  5. Russ says:

    Mormons going to Russia makes about as much sense as Kenyan/Indonesians’ coming to the U.S. and running for President.!.!.!

  6. jody says:

    Move over Book of Mormon musical! This is what the public really needs to see.

  7. April says:

    I’m excited to see the movie when it comes to my area! :) From the reviews of those who watched it, it sounds very uplifting and has been enjoyed by those of different faiths (I’m assuming those that believe in God and Jesus Christ).

    • Deskboy says:

      That being said, those who believe in God and Jesus Christ and Mormons are two distinctly separate groups of people.

      • ldsknack says:

        who Jesus was praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane?

      • Anon1068 says:

        It is a shame someone ;like you is allowed to post here. You obviously know nothing about Mormons, and are spouting the gibberish that is always swilling around the Evangelical movement. Your hatred for someone you know nothing about is sickening.

      • jody says:

        Mormon doctrine states:
        We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

        Deskboy, study the facts – don’t get on the bandwagon of people spreading the lies to keep people from the truth. Amen.

      • Barb says:

        Why do you feel the need to bash a believer’s faith?

  8. April says:

    JustChuck… I’m sorry, but I laughed when I read your comment about Joseph Smith having 14 wives and about them being married previously. Umm… records show he had just 1 wife, Emma Smith, who was unmarried and single before he married her. I hate to say it but it feels like you completely fabricated that information.

    • JustChuck says:

      Wow April. Read much? Exactly what “records” do you refer to? Perhaps you’re part of the Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized LDS), that still ignores the weight of history, but sorry, JS had at least 33 wives. 11 of them were already married to other men when Smith told these women that God commanded him to have them break their vows to their husbands and wed him.

      It’s soo very sad that Mormons want so much to cling to a somewhat Christian morality, but at their very core embrace a man that no Christian church would ever allow in a position of leadership. If any pastor in a mainstream Christian church were discovered approaching married women in his congregation claiming God commanded they violate their wedding vows and enter into a relationship with him, the man would be run out of town on a rail. But in Mormonism, such a man is revered and believed to be a prophet of God. Sad. There is no allowance anywhere in Jewish or Christian history or scripture for a man to violate the marital vows of a woman. Just read God’s reaction when David took up with Bathsheba. God does not look favorably on men who go after other men’s wives. But Mormonism embraces such a man as their leader and founder.

      If you truly doubt JS’s polygamy, I encourage you to read “In Sacred Loneliness” by Compton or “Mormon Polygamy: A History” by Van Wagoner. No reputable scholar claims Smith had just one wife during his lifetime.

      • Rob says:

        Yes it is true that it is well documented that Smith had multiple wives. How many? tough to say. What else is tough to say is exactly what Smith said to these wives to get them to marry him. You, me, nor those two authors you referenced were in on the conversation. Just because a someone said something and claims it to be truth doesn’t necessarily make it fact. You need to be careful with hearsay. What is “soo very sad” is when people believe speculative accounts of history as fact when they have really no sure witness, like first hand experience. I believe we call it gossip.

    • Kelly says:

      Mormons do believe that Jesus existed, but they do not believe that he is our one and only Savior. That is a huge difference that they prefer to leave out of conversation. Joseph Smith really pulled the wool.

      • What on earth are you talking about? If you had spent 5 minutes researching LDS beliefs beyond what anti-Mormon literature might say, you would be aware your understanding is completely false. There are plenty of resources to learn about the true beliefs of Mormonism, and you clearly have not visited any of them.

      • Craig says:

        Kelly, you are free to believe what you want. I respect that your interpretation of Jesus will not be like mine.

        But please DO NOT say that Mormons do not believe Jesus is our one and only savior. That is absolutely false. Mormons do believe Jesus Christ is our savior. To suggest otherwise is spreading false information.

      • Mike says:

        Kelly, you are dead wrong! Mormons absolutely believe that Jesus is our one and only Savior. If you want to really know what Mormons believe go to not some anti Mormon site.

    • April says:

      I correct myself, you said at least 11 wives not 14.

      • jody says:

        Abraham a prophet had more than one wife. This is ancient practice of true prophets of God. Sensationalist speek to try to annoy! The Old Testament is rife with polygamist prophets, what be the problem, nay sayer? I say, a sign of the True church is the following of true doctrine. Check it out!

  9. hate you all says:

    how about all you self proclaimed “real Christians ” s the f up and try being a little more tolerant and accepting, oh wait cuz thats what the real jesus might have done , right….

  10. Yo Quiero Taco Bell says:

    Too Bad AMC is held by Chinese interests.

  11. Joel says:

    Mormons, Christians. Is one the other? Who cares. You all believe in the fairy sky God. You all are delusional. And for all you haters who think Mormonism isn’t Christianity because of their “differences”. Consider this: Jesus was arrested, “tried” and executed for Your sins…and since God and Jesus are one-in-the-same, essentially God sent himself to Earth to be tortured and murdered to save all humanity from…himself. Yep makes perfect sense. All of you religious people are idiots. To argue who is right and wrong is a hoot. None of it makes sense.

    • Believe says:

      You exemplify that which you excoriated.

      • I beg to differ says:

        Joel – You ALMOST have it right. Jesus is not one-in-the-same with God. He is the true son of God, and they, along with the Holy Spirit, make up the Godhead called the Holy Trinity. God sent his son to earth to dwell among us, understand our challenges, then to suffer and die for our sins to save us not from himself, but from the death which perfect justice requires for sin against God. It is we who condemn ourselves by freely choosing to rebel against God. That choice has a consequence which we are aware of. In your case, you choose to pretend it is not clear what the relationship is between God and man, because it is not convenient for you to understand your obligation. That relationship requires something of you, and you choose not to pay the price. Perfect justice will be served to you, whether you believe in it or not. My recommendation is that you reconsider your cynicism and really try to understand what is going on between God and man. Eternity is a long time to dwell on an error in premise, but don’t do it out of fear. Do it out of a respect for intellectual honesty. Until you do, you are in no position to disparage those who already have.

  12. Lighten up you religious nut sacks…’s just a movie. Don’t spend money to see it. Problem solved.

  13. james says:

    Two Mormon Missionaries Freed In Russia The Kidnappings Came Six Months After The Country Passed A Law Restricting Small Religions.
    Posted: March 23, 1998

    MOSCOW — Kidnappers holding two Mormon missionaries abandoned their captives in a field yesterday, four days after seizing the pair in central Russia and demanding $300,000 in ransom, church members said.

    The missionaries, Andrew Lee Propst of Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle of Gilbert, Ariz., both 20, were released just after lunchtime yesterday outside the Volga River city of Saratov. Except for minor head wounds suffered during Wednesday’s abduction, they were in good condition.

    A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – also known as the Mormon Church – said no ransom was paid and there was still no clear motive for the abduction.

    According to John Strickling, a relative of Propst’s, the kidnappers apparently panicked when they learned of the intensifying search for the Americans.

    “I think they were amateurs, petty thugs,” Strickling said. “When they saw all the interest, it was overwhelming for them. They felt they were running out of time.”

    The kidnappings, which came only six months after Russia passed a controversial law restricting small religions, immediately became a high priority in the United States. President Clinton dispatched four agents from the FBI to assist Russian police, and Mormon Church security officers also went to Saratov, about 500 miles southeast of Moscow.

    The kidnappings also prompted Sen. Robert Bennett (R., Utah) to speak out sharply against Russia’s new religion law, saying it had created a climate in which foreign missionaries were treated with suspicion. Congress long has been critical of the law and has threatened to withhold aid to Russia unless it is repealed.

    The law was partly a reaction to the flood of foreign missionaries who came to proselytize in Russia after the collapse of communism. Mormons, who number only about 8,000 in Russia, had been singled out for criticism by the popular Russian politician Alexander I. Lebed, a retired general.

    Lebed denounced the Mormon Church as “filth and scum,” although he later apologized for the remarks. Some Russians are convinced that foreign religions threaten the country’s native Orthodox Christian Church.

    “There’s definitely the sense that, if the country passed this law, then these kind of missionaries shouldn’t be there,” complained Strickling. “It makes them targets.”

    Kidnappings have been rampant in the war-torn Caucasus Mountain region, but the abduction of the two American missionaries was the first such attack to occur in the Russian heartland. It was also the most serious incident involving foreign missionaries since they were permitted to proselytize in Russia.

    After Propst and Tuttle were abandoned by their kidnappers, they walked back toward Saratov until they found a telephone to call police, said Strickling.

    The men, who were doing a two-year voluntary missionary program in Russia, spent most of yesterday working with police to try to track down their kidnappers, Strickling said. They called home, he said, and spoke with their families.

    The missionaries are attached to the Samara Regional Mission and lived in Samara. They went to Saratov to meet people who were supposedly interested in learning more about the Mormon Church, Strickling said.

    When the young men arrived at the apartment where the meeting was to take place, they were struck on the head and taken captive, he said. Later, photocopies of their passports were delivered with a handwritten ransom note to a Mormon Church building.

  14. Susan says:

    Oh, and haters, until you see the movie, you might want to quit embarrassing yourselves. After you see it, your views will be more accurate.

  15. Susan says:

    Ok, the story is about Mormons, but the bigger picture is that this could happen to anybody. We all hope we could be brave and noble, but the fact is that most of us couldn’t. So we secretly root for these guys all the while having a mild anxiety attack! Also totally loved the young kidnapper played by Nikita Bogolyubov. He grew a lot through the gut-wrenching experience, too. Hands down best movie!

  16. The Ancient Mariner says:

    I don’t understand why people feel the need to insert Russian Cyrillic into English. It kinda annoys me. I mean, in the trailer they spell saratov saяatфv, which would be pronounced sayaatfv. It just really annoys me whenever I see such font.

    • Craig says:

      I have to agree. It’s a pet peeve of mine too. In spite of the silliness of the poster, the movie is excellent and worth watching. I knew how it ended but was still on the edge of my seat at times.

  17. Not important says:

    I love the Mormons. I am for the most organized religion.

  18. cindy says:

    This is a movie of Hope. A belief in God, a power larger than us to support us through life’s difficult situations. We all need hope. This was a movie that walks you through having hope. Liked it.

  19. Vern says:

    The words of Christ. Judge not, that you be not judged. In judging another, you condemn yourself. Love your Lord, as he loved you,and gave himself on the Cross

  20. JR says:

    I’m not Mormon, but I think Mormons can decide for themselves what they believe in. They don’t need you telling them what you think they believe.

    Hows about you let people think and believe what they want in peace, guy.

  21. John McDonn says:

    Democrat Senate Majority leader Harry Reid is Mormon. Democrat Senator Udall from Colorado and another Democrat Senator Udall from New Mexico are also both Mormon. So I see your point! Keep up the hate and hopefully Reid and all his ilk will be taken down

  22. Matthew A. says:

    Who is this Rev Keller guy? Hope you’re not really a Reverend because you certainly aren’t someone I’d want to listen to nor thankfully pay money to. Angry and full of hate…I’ll steer clear.

  23. AK says:

    All the vitriol hate for those with different beliefs is not Christian and therefore you should not be counted as a Christian but a hypocrite, just as Christ did.

  24. MovieFun says:

    Looks like a good movie that is worth spending money to see. I’m all for faith promoting films rather than the usual Hollywood dribble.

  25. AK says:

    The ignorance of this post is laughable. Get educated and lose the hate Rev.

  26. Mikey Webb says:

    I hope BOX OFFICE MOJO records the data.

  27. rawhheadrex says:

    Do not use the Cyrillic symbol ‘ya,’ which appears to be a reversed ‘r’ when you mean r. The semi-vowel ‘ya’ would not appear next to the Cyrillic vowel ‘a’ anyway. The Cyrillic ‘r’ appears as English ‘p.’ If you cannot Anglicize it, do not bother.

  28. tcskyline says:

    How about u go to sleep Mr fritobugger:-)

  29. fritobugger says:

    How about we do a movie about the mormon slaughter of a non-mormon wagon train back in the old west?

  30. edwardo says:

    I am surprised they were not captured and tortured here in this country fro their Christian beliefs.

    • igrandadmiralthrawn says:

      Umm, no. Russia is very Russian Orthodox i.e. Christianity. Also, this:

    • Mormons have their own belief system which is not mainstream Christianity.

      • Mike says:

        Since when did you get to decide what the definition of “Christian” is? I love the fact that so many anti Mormons seem to think they get to define what being a believer in Christ looks like.
        1)Mormonism does not accept the doctrine of the trinity: Neither does the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be found in Bible. It came about hundreds of years later. 2) You use a text other than the Bible, The Book of Mormon: So what? We use the Bible and the Book or Mormon. John was referring to the Book of Revelation when he warned against adding to the words of this prophecy. 3) It is not held by the Catholicism, Protestantism, or Orthodox Christianity that Jesus began his atonement in the garden of Gethsemane: Why not? The atonement clearly started in the garden and was completed on the cross. Open your eyes and read the Bible. 4) Ex nihilio: Bible scholars don’t even agree on whether God created something out of nothing.
        How about this definition of being Christian? I am Christian if I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that he atoned for my sins and that if I believe in Him and strive to follow His teaching I am Christian. Does that work for you?

      • Joel says:

        If you want to learn about the differences between Mormonism and Christianity, try the “Plan of Salvation” talks at Pre-mortal existence? Mormon, not Christian. Degrees of glory? A telestial, terrestrial and celestial heaven? Mormonism for sure, not Christianity. There are no ‘backstop’ heavens for you, your family or your loved ones who don’t work hard enough, there is only Heaven and Hell, and those who do not lean solely on the work of Christ, but rather try to “follow the way he showed” will not be in Heaven. Only the sinless enter heaven and since I and rest of humankind are born sinful, there is no way for us to enter. So Jesus did ALL the work for us, becoming our sin and taking God’s wrath and punishment for it onto himself. He didn’t just break the bonds of death and Hell, He suffered Hell FOR you, so that you can have eternal life if you only believe. Don’t teach your children that He did this in the garden of Gethsemane, that’s not a Christian teaching, his passion started there, but the work was finished on the cross.

        Teaching that Adam was God? Mormonism. Teaching that men can become god’s of their own? Mormonism. That I will raise my wife by calling her secret name and having billions of spirit babies? I’ll give you one guess on that one. The world wants to lead you along the broad path and tell you it’s the narrow one. Satan wants to take Christianity and ‘tweak’ it a little bit so that people will hear what they want to…that there is something they must do. People who take that path are those who will hear “Away from me you evildoers, I never knew you.”

      • igrandadmiralthrawn says:

        @poohzcrew Um, I would have to disagree with you labeling yourself as a Christian. A few I can think of right now: 1: Mormonism does not accept the doctrine of the trinity 2: You use a text other than the Bible, The Book of Mormon 3: It is not held by the Catholicism, Protestantism, or Orthodox Christianity that Jesus began his atonement in the garden of Gethsemane 4: It does not believe in ex nihilio Therefore I conclude that Mormonism is not Christianity, however it may have roots in it. Kinda how Christianity has roots in Judaism, but is clearly not Judaism. I believe that I could probably find quite a few more reasons, but those are all I have for now.

      • Missy says:

        Mormons are biblical Christians. It is the modern day Christians that are frauds.

      • JustChuck says:

        May we clarify by saying Mormonism is the only “Christian” religion that requires adherents to declare support for a man who approached nearly a dozen married women and encouraged them to step outside their marital vows to enter into a relationship with him? Every other Christian religion would declare such a man to be a charlatan and expel him. Mormons declare him to be their prophet and the founder of their religion. Yes, Joseph Smith married at least 11 women who were already married to other men.

        And some of his other wives were as young as 14. At most churches men like that are jailed as pedophiles, but Mormonism exalts him as their leader.

        And is it possible for any Mormon to reject this man and simply follow Jesus? No, it is not. Their brand of Christianity requires that you accept this man as a true prophet or you cannot truly follow their Jesus.

        For the rest of us, we cannot follow such a man and truly follow Jesus.

        So, pray to your Jesus all day long and get all the inspirational paintings you like, but until you truly embrace the morality of Jesus and gain the freedom to condemn a man who broke up marriages and married little girls, your faith is useless to promote any real morality or changed life. If you willing embrace such a corrupt leader, be prepared to hear, “get away from me, I never knew you.”

      • poohzcrew says:

        If I’m not a Christian, explain why I pray multiple times daily to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, who is my advocate and intercessor. Please explain to me why all scripture in my home teaches of Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. Please explain why I have multiple large art works, including paintings, prints, and sculptures, depicting Jesus, the Good Shepherd, within my view as I sit on the sofa in my open-plan home. Please tell me why my husband and I teach our three young boys that they have a Savior named Jesus Christ who atoned for
        their sins in the Garden of Gethsemane to provide them a way to be cleansed from their wrongdoings, and then willingly gave His life on the cross at Golgotha to overcome the bonds of death and hell for them. I am a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a Mormon. And yes sir, I am indeed a Christian.

  31. nolij says:

    Its good to see the same actor from Saints & Soldiers (an excellent indie movie you can watch on Hulu) in another quality indie film.

  32. What I know of the film is that it’s not necessarily religious in aspect, other than incidental subject matter relating to the characters. Perhaps it’s a mistake to highlight how a young Mormon demographic is judging it. People relate to things when the setting & topic are dear to their hearts.
    I haven’t seen the film, but don’t want people to shy away from what appears to be interesting, just because a certain number of people are seeing it from positive perspective. After all, there is quite a bit of prejudice against Mormons.

    • Magpielovely says:

      I have seen the film and it is absolutely religious. This is the true story of Mormon missionaries who were kidnapped and ransomed in Russia. It is Mormon start to finish.

  33. Jay Burton says:

    In 1970 in basic training in the U.S. Army there were two Mormon conscientious objectors destined for the Medical Corps. The were respected young leaders by all. They were willing to die saving other soldiers but not kill.

    • Kazzy says:

      I would like to hear more about this story, is there a way for me to contact you and find out the story of the medics?

    • Respectfully, I don’t think the conscientious objectors were objecting because they were Mormon. Mormons, as a group, do not shy away from civic or national duty.

      • Dugway says:

        I’ve served with a number of practicing Mormons, including Army infantrymen and fighter pilots.

      • There’s not a Mormon family that doesn’t have a military connection. I notice your “Dugway” name. Dugway Proving Ground? :-)

      • Jay Burton says:

        I did not know and do not now know anything about Mormon beliefs. Those two were not shying away from any civic or national duty. I can assure you that combat medics were our favorites. They made the difference between bleeding to death in a muddy ditch or going home with a limp.

      • Their beliefs are then only incidental other than the honor that was instilled in them. I’m sure you have stories to tell!

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