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The Other Side of Heaven

The Other Side of Heaven
DVD cover
Directed by Mitch Davis
Produced by John Garbett
Gerald R. Molen
Written by Mitch Davis
Based on In the Eye of the Storm 
by John H. Groberg
Starring Christopher Gorham
Anne Hathaway
Music by Kevin Kiner
Cinematography Brian J. Breheny
Edited by Steven Ramirez
Distributed by Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release dates
  • December 19, 2001 (2001-12-19)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $4,720,371[1]

The Other Side of Heaven is a 2001 American adventure drama film written and directed by Mitch Davis. The film stars Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway.[2][3]

The film is about John Groberg's experience as a Mormon missionary in the Tongan islands in the 1950s and is based on a true story from the book that he wrote about his experiences, In the Eye of the Storm. The film focuses on Groberg's adventurous experiences and trials while serving as a missionary in the South Pacific. While portraying these events, the film discusses little LDS theology, focusing instead on the Mormon missionary experience.


Set in the 1950s, John Groberg is playing in the band at a dance being held at Brigham Young University. Jean Sabin is his girlfriend who is also at the dance. They dance with each other and leave the dance together. John's family in Idaho Falls receives his mission call. He learns that he is called to serve in Tonga. He says goodbye to his family and leaves from Idaho Falls to Los Angeles, where he boards a ship and gets to Fiji where he is detained in a Fijian jail. He is released and sets sail for Tonga, where he meets his mission president who introduces him to Feki, his companion who is a native Tongan who also speaks English. They are assigned to serve in a remote island of the mission. He expects a warm welcome from the people, but he is greeted with contempt by the island people. He goes through culture shock as he adjusts to the Tongan culture, difficulty with the Tongan language and with a local minister has told the people not to listen to John or to his message. He begins by learning the Tongan language, but also isolates himself, studying the Bible in both English and Tongan, becoming more familiar with the language. John and Feki build a house for themselves on the island. One morning, John discovers that rats have eaten the soles of his feet. His fellow church members help him as his feet heal. They heal just in time for the Sunday church meetings, and he is miraculously able to walk. This astonishes the people, and they become more receptive to his message. One night, a group of men surround John and Feki to beat them up. They have been sent by the local minister. One of the men, Tomasi, breaks them up and sends them away. Tomasi saves John and Feki, because he was baptized into the church and is Mormon himself.

Tomasi begins attending church meetings. A local woman, at the behest of her family, tries to seduce John so that she can have a "half-white baby". The woman's mother becomes offended at John's rejection of her daughter. John tells her that he is saving himself for Jean, his girlfriend back home. The woman's mother is satisfied. A hurricane hits the island, and the island is heavily damaged. A supply ship is expected in a few weeks, but the ship is late. The people ration their food and water to survive. Many people on the island die. John is saved when the local minister approaches him, apologizes to him, and gives John his last ration of food. The supply ship arrives, and John, Feki, and many others are saved. The local minister passes away and is given an honorable burial. The mission president authorizes John to form a congregation on the island. John is set apart as the branch president and calls two counselors. Feki is assigned to go back to construction. John and Feki part ways, and thank each other for their friendship. The new mission president visits the island and has concerns about the work there. Even though a lot of work has been done, the mission president has no records of the work. John quickly completes the required forms and turns them in to the mission president.

The mission president apologizes to John and praises John for his work. He also puts John in for a six-month extension of his mission. While traveling to an outlying island, John and his two counselors are caught in a major storm at sea. All three are tossed overboard and must swim for their lives. John miraculously makes it to shore and finds that his counselors are also safe. Once John returns to the Tongan Island, he finds out the six-month extension is denied, and John concludes his mission to Tonga. The people thank him for all he has done for them, and John heads back home to the United States. Throughout his mission, John and Jean keep in contact by letters. Some of the narrative of the story is told through these letters. They remain faithful to each other and are married after John returns home. They have children and continue to serve in the church. They also visit the Tongan islands several times.



The Other Side of Heaven is based on John Groberg's book entitled In the Eye of the Storm. Deseret Book, who owned the rights to the book, was hesitant to sell the rights for a movie due to concerns about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be portrayed in the film. The fact that the producer, the director, and many of the filming crew were Latter-day Saints alleviated this concern. Deseret Book quickly sold the rights to the book allowing the film to be made.

The title of the film was changed from In the Eye of the Storm to The Other Side of Heaven to avoid confusion with The Perfect Storm, which had been released a year earlier.

Gerald R. Molen, the producer, had worked on several notable films, including The Color Purple, Rain Man, Schindler's List, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He won an Academy Award for his work in Schindler's List and is a Latter-day Saint. Mitch Davis, the director, had worked on several Disney films before this film. He won a CAMIE Award for this film, which was shared with Gerald R. Molen and several film crew members. He is a Latter-day Saint.

Christopher Gorham was cast as John H. Groberg in the film because of his ability to balance the seriousness of the role with lighter, more comedic moments. He learned how to speak the Tongan parts with a flawless accent.[citation needed]

Anne Hathaway was cast as Jean Groberg (née Sabin) in the film, her parts being shot towards the end of the production. She immediately began working on The Princess Diaries after completing work on this film. The film was shot on location in New Zealand, even the opening scenes set at Brigham Young University.

Polynesian actors were used for most of the roles. The less experienced ones relied heavily on the more experienced ones. The cast and crew enjoyed a great amount of cooperation from locals. When the film crew arrived on the Island of Rarotonga (capital of the Cook Islands), the Prime Minister welcomed them by gathering all of the religious ministers of the community for a prayer meeting. They prayed that the film crew would be blessed with good weather. The photographs in the opening scenes are of the actual people portrayed in the film, provided by John H. Groberg.

During the opening dance scene, extras were hired from almost every swing club in New Zealand. Gorham and Hathaway did most of their own dancing. Hathaway was kicked in the head in one of the takes and was nearly knocked out.

The scenes where Groberg learns the Tongan language were altered slightly for dramatic effect. He did isolate himself and study the Bible in both English and Tongan and went without food and water for several days. However, he spent time in a bush, rather than on a beach.

Groberg and Feki's hut was recreated from photographs, an authentic replica of the one that they actually lived in.

Groberg really did have rats eat the soles of his feet while he slept. When he awoke that morning, they split open, and the members of his branch helped treat his feet. He spent time outside with his feet pointed up at the sun in order to sear the soles of his feet with the heat from the sun. Later in life, he was diagnosed with skin cancer on the soles of his feet due to exposure to the sun. His doctor was puzzled about how he could have exposed the soles of his feet to the sun. Groberg responded to his doctor, "Have I got a story to tell you..."

A boy really did fall from a mango tree. He was on his way to a church meeting on Tuesday. He climbed the tree because it had very good mangos. He fell out of the tree and was knocked out. When he awoke on Thursday after being treat by Groberg, he was worried that he was late to his church meeting.

The real Feki's father was not a drinking man, nor did he beat his wife. Liberties were taken in order to combine several characters. This particular alteration was done with the permission of the real Feki's children.

The real John H. Groberg, his wife Jean, one of his grandsons and one of his daughters with her husband can be seen at the very end during the wedding scene. As the camera pans from right to left, his daughter, then her husband, then the grandson, then John are taking a picture of the couple, and his wife is next to him clapping. The first cut of the film was 2 hours 15 minutes and the final one was 1 hour 53 minutes.[4]


The film's release was delayed for the release of the other Disney film, The Princess Diaries, also starring Hathaway. It was hoped that the success of that film would garner a following for Hathaway and bring in extra earnings for this film. Disney only had part in the DVD release, and it was distributed by Excel Entertainment Group.


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