Opening in Mesa this weekend is a new film that depicts the true story of a little-known hero of the early West.
Ephraim’s Rescue tells of the extraordinary life of Ephraim Hanks, a hard-driving, mountain-man, who was part of the Latter-day Saint movement of the 19th century, joining Mormon pioneers during their trek across the central plains to what is now the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Against this backdrop of American history is revealed a story of unique heroism as, ultimately, Hanks was responsible for rescuing many of the group known as the Martin Handcart Company, who were stranded because of early winter storms.
The film of Hank’s singular, noteworthy life, also has universal application and lessons for viewers.
“Anyone interested in history or the colonization of the West will enjoy the movie,” said writer and director, T.C. Christensen. More than that, however, viewers will appreciate learning about a man “who many have never heard of, but who deserves to be well-known. He’s a great example and did some amazing things in his life.”
Christensen, who also directed the acclaimed pioneer film, 17 Miracles, said that, in several scenes in Ephraim’s Rescue, “We use the motif of a fork in the road to convey the idea of the choices Ephraim made and how the choices we each make can prepare us for what lies ahead.”
“He is an example of wise choices, of coming to understand that there are certain things that you have as a gift. It is important to figure that ‘gift’ out, live it and use it to help others,” Christensen said.
Darin Southam, who plays Ephraim Hanks, said he found the role fascinating.
“I couldn’t help but learn a lot when portraying someone who had a life like Ephraim Hanks did. His life was so interesting, and the decisions he made early on really determined his destiny.”
In preparing for the role, Southam studied Hanks’ life, even traveling 450 miles to the small community of Caineville, Utah, to visit the gravesite where Hanks is buried.
“Anytime you portray someone as an actor, you quite literally want to ‘become’ that person,” Southam explained. “I made a focused effort to learn about him and gather as much information as I could.”
He learned that Hanks came from a dysfunctional home, where he got little support from his parents.
“When you learn about the stature of the person who came from the background he did, it’s quite remarkable,” Southam said, adding, “Ephraim Hanks was not perfect—but he set those things aside and moved forward. He didn’t sit back and whine and complain, but he rose above the negativity that we all have a tendency to inflict upon ourselves.”
Southam said in playing the role, he felt a responsibility to Ephraim Hanks, but also to Hanks’ descendants, many of whom live in the Phoenix area.
“The family members have a deep and profound love for him and they respect him highly for what he did,” Southam said.
A great-great-granddaughter, Ann Campbell, of Phoenix, said, “It makes me very proud to know this movie was made about him. I have known for a very long time what an amazing human being he was and this is a wonderful tribute to him. He proved you never give up and endure to the end no matter how hard it gets.”
The 94-minute film, from Excel Entertainment Group, opens in two Mesa theaters—the Harkins Superstition Springs 25, 6950 E. Superstitions Springs Blvd, and Cinemark 16 at Riverview, 105 N. Dobson Road — on Friday, May 31. To view the trailer, see movie times or purchase tickets, visit www.ephraimsrescue.com.