River of Victory

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

In which the three BYU boys who produced this film successfully avoid, even if by accident, all manner of cultural or colonialist perils. The subject is poverty, but by giving the film over to these poor people, by giving us their names and voices, the filmmakers haven’t made an object of that poverty. This means that we learn how much more there is to a poor person than her abjectness. We see personalities and passions and frustrations, the usual human abundance. And then we see that poverty is always in the vicinity, and that it is an affront to that abundance, to the dignity of humanity. That’s actually where we find the major weakness in this very laudable film. Its heart is definitely in the right place, and it is justified in the relationship it establishes with its subjects. But after all of the appalling things it portrays for our behalf, all the solution it can come up with is an address so that we can send a donation. Band-aids, definitely, but it’s not charity we need here. It’s justice!

Not every film need address systemic or infrastructural issues, let alone come up with solutions to systemic and infrastructural problems. But every film should at least have a slight clue about them. Oh, well. There’s so many Mormons for you, and maybe why old President Thomas Monson put the poor back at the top of the agenda, back when he took over. There’s a more important thing. For all the corporate underpinning of Church culture, or maybe the corporate backgrounds and identities of so many of its agents, the missionaries may ultimately have it over the lefty do-gooders. What was it that they said, that these boys embraced with all their hearts? “Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.”