Just as the polygamous alleged child rapist Warren Jeffs awaited trial, two filmmakers exposed him for the first time.
On September 16, Damned to Heaven, a documentary that reveals the inner-workings of Jeffs’ polygamist community in Colorado City, Arizona, won an honorable mention at the Temecula Valley International Film and Music Festival. The timing for the American premiere was uncanny, said co-director Pawel Gula. Jeffs went on trial last Thursday, five days after the film premiered.
Last Tuesday, Jeffs, the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was found guilty of rape as an accomplice for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. Five minutes after the court announced its verdict co-director Thomas Elliott expressed ambivalence in a phone call from his office in Los Angeles.
“There are dozens of claims against him on much more awful things,” he said. “If he’s put in [prison] for life, and this is the end of Warren Jeffs, the world will never know all the insidious things he did.”
Recordings of Jeffs’ sermons—the same that local charter schoolteachers played for students in lieu of actual lessons—can be heard in the film. These recordings taught young girls to be passive and completely subservient to males, and taught males to marry as many women as possible.
The result of this indoctrination isn’t only polygamy, but child-molestation. Grown men—sometimes middle-aged men—openly marry and molest teenaged and pre-teen girls.
The film exposed a small community living under Jeffs’ total control. Jeffs—along with the members of the community—believed himself to be in direct communication with God. In Colorado City, his word was law—literally.
The Colorado City Police Department consisted of only five officers, all of which were loyal followers of Jeffs. The film exposes a 2006 letter that the city’s chief of police wrote to Jeffs swearing loyalty to him after he appeared on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
Standing in the theatre halls after the film premiere, Gula recalled the day the gravity of the situation in Colorado City first hit him. He and Elliott met a man at a diner outside the city. The day before the meeting, Gula had spoken with the man on the phone. The man said Jeffs had banished him from the city, separating him from his home and family. The man agreed to the interview, but declined to have it recorded.
Gula and Elliott had interviewed several residents and ex-residents of the community by that time. The interviewee’s tales seemed so outlandish that Gula suspected they were fabricated. That changed when Gula asked the man if he would like some coffee to start with.
The man’s face wrinkled deeply as he leaned into his palms, sobbing quietly. For those agonizing minutes the man sat sobbing, Jeffs, who believed he was one with God and who commanded an entire city, became real to Gula.
“You can’t fake that,” said Gula. “That’s when I realized this wasn’t just made up. This is real, and it’s happening now.”
Elliot, Gula and the rest of the team that produced Damned to Heaven are bringing the film to the backyard of suspected rapist. The film has been accepted to the Red Rock Festival in St. George, Utah, the city in which Jeffs is being tried. The festival runs October 19-20.
The film and Jeffs conviction both serve the same purpose, said Elliott. “[Jeffs’ conviction] is one more step in breaking the bond that’s keeping these people in the dark, keeping them brainwashed,” he said. “But as long as there is this closed environment . . . they’ll continue to do as they believe.”
For more information on Damned to Heaven, visit www.damnedtoheaven.com.