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Inside a Polygamist Cult

Imagine perusing profiles on a dating website and finding the profile of 60ish millionaire, with Mormon values, and a few wives not far above and below the age of 15. Here's the clincher: He's a prophet and speaks directly to God. The deal didn't seem too appealing to Avery Colden either in director Drew Ann Rosenberg's film Follow The Prophet, which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday, January 23. It screens again on Friday, January 30, at 8:15 a.m. in the Metro 4.

When Avery's father Roger Colden, played by David Conrad, needs a bailout from a bad land deal, he asks for help from the Mormon church. It agrees, with the condition that he give up his 15-year-old daughter Avery to the "Prophet" (Tom Noonan). As part of this polygamist ritual, Roger must "lay" with his daughter before she can become another one of the Prophet's "secret wives." We see Roger's attempt and hear Avery's screams through the screen of a small digital camera that Avery left on one of her shelves. Avery immobilizes her father with the swing of lamp and runs away. Her filmmaking hobby leaves her with proof of her father's incestuous advances.

Cold and shoeless, Avery finds shelter in the backseat of Jude Mark's truck while he stops at a gas station. The writer of Follow The Prophet, Robert Chimento, pulls double duty playing Jude, an army colonel who just lost his daughter Victoria in Iraq. When he left to visit his friend Ted in Utah, he didn't know the trip would include the surveillance and unmasking of a polygamist cult. He discovers Avery in his backseat and provides her with food, shelter, and whiskey. After a confusing, drunken striptease in front of her camera, they wind up at a runaway camp for other Mormon victims of molestation and incest.

Here we meet Red, played by Golden-Globe nominated actress Diane Venora, who provides these runaways with food and supplies. Red and Jude team up to bring down the prophet. When General Davis (R.D. Call), a Utah native, refuses to provide surveillance equipment, Jude steals it, placing "bugs" and cameras in the homes of the prophet and the Colden's. The film climaxes with a "sting" operation, in which Avery enters the home of the Prophet with a camera on her clothing.

The film's purpose is to raise awareness about these polygamist cults that have survived in this country for years. While the purpose is apparent, this execution falls short. Chimento's storyline, full of shoot-em-ups and explosions, is not believable and neither is Annie Burgstede's performance as a 15-year-old Mormon bride. Burgstede is best known for her role as Willow on the long running day-time soap opera Days of Our Lives. Unfortunately, her acting does not translate well onto the big screen as her tears seemed more unconvincing than heartfelt. Other dramatic and high tension scenes, such as the confessions of some runaway's at the camp, fail to draw out the sympathy that Chimento and Rosenberg intended. This is most likely due to the lack of experience of many of the younger cast members. Scene breaks that fade to black also take the audience out of the film, which reduces the believability.

Despite these drawbacks, the message is clear: something must be done. While Jude's actions seem outlandish, he at least refuses to sit around while "good men do nothing."

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Follow The Prophet screens again on Friday, January 30, at 8:15 a.m. in the Metro 4.

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