In the midst of what many see as a renaissance of Mormon cinema, The Cokeville Miracle represents the concentrated effort of LDS filmmakers to put power, testimony, and true entertainment back into their industry.
Based on real events, The Cokeville Miracle tells the story of an elementary school in Cokeville, Wyoming that is taken hostage by a deranged bomber and his wife. Miraculously, when the bomb goes off, the only two people killed are the perpetrators. It’s then that the children begin telling stories of heavenly visitations that leave the community, and the local Sheriff whom the movie follows, stunned.
Opening in theaters today, The Cokeville Miracle doesn’t just tell a powerful story; for those involved in the filmmaking process, including cast member Shawn Stevens, just being part of the project was a miracle in and of itself.
Stevens, who plays the bishop of the local community in Cokeville, may be recognized for starring in the church film “Our Heavenly Father’s Plan.” After completing the film, Stevens was asked to consider putting his acting career aside so it wouldn’t interfere with the work and rollout of the film.
“In other words, they didn’t want investigators to question if I was a paid actor just reading lines or if I was a real convert speaking from the heart,” Stevens said.
“My first day on the set was a very tender mercy and I believe a personal gift from the Lord. To be on a movie set in front of the camera was something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do again.”
Even after meeting T.C. Christensen, the director, producer, and writer of The Cokeville Miracle, Stevens didn’t think the chance was going to come his way.
“He contacted me and said he’d like me to be in his next movie. Having just completed production on Ephraim’s Rescue he indicated that his next production would be in a couple of years. Having grown up in Hollywood, I knew not to count on that type of offer. But true to his word he did call and here I am today.”
The character of Bishop John Teichert is one of the few characters in the film that represents numerous people. Stevens explained neither he nor Christensen wanted to identify any specific church or doctrine to help keep the story relatable to a wider audience.
“He [Christensen] wanted everyone who sees the film to be able to identify with the story and claim ownership of the experience so no one refers to me as bishop. In truth, there were many church affiliations represented among the children and adults.”
As a religious leader in the film, Stevens had the opportunity to do scenes in which his character seeks to comfort and guide others who are struggling. One scene in particular stuck with Stevens and reminded him of a personal experience.
“There was one day that was particularly emotional for me. In one scene I am addressing my congregation (ward) and helping them come to terms with what we as a community had just been thru. I drew my inspiration from an actual situation that happened to me the first Sunday following 9/11. I was a counselor in a bishopric and it fell on me to conduct and, by assignment from my bishop, to deliver a talk to everyone assembled. It was an experience I’ll never forget and it inspired the choices I made and my delivery of that scene.”
“I know that our Heavenly Father is very mindful of each of us and wants us to utilize the gifts and talents He’s given us for good purposes. I know He brought this opportunity to me but I still had to reach for it. Never be afraid to follow your righteous dreams! I guess that’s also part of my takeaway from the story…don’t underestimate Heavenly Father’s concern for each one of us. He’s there and willing to help if we need him! He wants to be involved in our lives. All we have to do is invite Him and open the door when He shows up!” Stevens said.
Stevens hopes that The Cokeville Miracle “will cause people to look to God first, not after all we can do!” He also hopes audiences will feel the real power of prayer and the truth that miracles still happen today and are all around us.
The box office is where a film sinks or swims, and audiences wanting to support the film are encouraged to go out this weekend with their families and see it. The filmmakers have been very frank with movie-goers on social media, reminding them that the more seats that are filled, the more theater owners will have faith to put the film on screens.
Stevens also encourages audiences to “share the film on social media, write reviews, and contact your local theaters to request the movie if it isn’t there.”
He is also appreciative of what The Cokeville Miracle represents for the film industry.
“I’m really happy as a parent and grandparent to see more faith based films being made. It’s restored my faith that good quality family entertainment will always have a place. If it wasn’t making money the films wouldn’t be being made. Our voices are being heard and this movement that had its Genesis in Utah is resonating in Hollywood too!”
You can learn more about The Cokeville Miracle, including theaters and showtimes, at their official website.
Shawn Stevens is a convert to the Church, having been baptized at the age of 19 one week after having met with LDS missionaries. When he’s not acting, Stevens is hard at work with Zion Bags, which he co-founded when he couldn’t find a high-quality bag for his youngest son’s mission. Now the number one best selling bag in Utah missionary outlets, Zion Bags is quickly making a name for itself within the LDS community. You can follow them on their Instagram (@zionbags) and Stevens’ own account (@missionarymoments). Did you appreciate what Stevens had to say about the film. Let them know by sharing this article or a post of your own with the hashtags #zionbags and #seemiracles