That Fighting Spirit

'Sons of Perdition'

That Fighting Spirit

The Exiles

Leaving the nest is a rite of passage for most young adults, but what happens when you're forcibly removed from that nest, at an age as young as 14, cut off completely from your family and left to fend for yourself? Sons of Perdition explores that very situation in its emotional depiction of three teenage boys who were kicked out of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a splinter group of the Mormon group (the polygamist sect's leader, the "prophet" Warren Jeffs, is currently awaiting a retrial for the charge of being an accomplice to rape of a minor).

Filmmakers Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten, both Utah natives, felt the news coverage of FLDS wasn't telling the whole story. "Jenny and I both left the Mormon Church – the mainstream Mormon Church – so we kind of know what's it like to leave something and to be told you're going to hell, to [have to] reconcile that in your mind," said Measom. "That's the story we wanted to tell."

The film follows three former FLDS teens, Sam, Bruce, and Joe, who all left the compound in Colorado City, Ariz., while still in their teens after butting heads with church leadership. (Sam was reprimanded for speaking with a girl, Bruce left when Jeffs exiled his father and redistributed his second and third mothers and their children to other men, and Joe got in trouble for fraternizing with his exiled older brother.) It took Measom and Merten six months to make any headway with the boys. "At first they told us, quite literally, to fuck off," Measom laughed. "But we persisted."

How persistent were the filmmakers? They spent the next six years tracking the ups and downs of these three exiled boys, including –most harrowingly – Joe's repeated attempts to help his siblings escape FLDS, including Hillary, his then-14-year-old sister who had been pulled from school after fifth grade to help raise her 12 younger siblings.

Perhaps inevitably, the filmmakers grew close to the boys and even became part of the ongoing action, although Measom said they made a conscious decision to not make the film a first-person documentary. "I bailed Sam out of jail a couple of times," Measom recalled.

The film also documents a frenzied scene in which Hillary attempts to escape with Joe, with the filmmakers behind the wheel of the getaway car.

"That wasn't planned," Measom said. "All of a sudden, they come running out and [Hillary] jumps in my car and says: 'Go! Go! Go!'"

For Measom, there was simply no question as to whether he and Merten should get involved, personally, with their subjects.

"The fact of the matter is, when the law isn't doing something –when a 14-year-old girl is stuck at home, isn't being educated, is threatened with marriage to an older man – and the law isn't doing something, as they are continuing to not do anything, we [felt we should] step in."

The three boys – now in their early 20s –were in attendance at Sons of Perdition's premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, an experience Measom said was difficult for them but also cathartic.

"They understand the weight of what it means to tell their story, not just for ex-polygamists but for anybody who's trying to leave any kind of binding institution or community or family.

"They also love going to film festivals," he said. "They like the rock star kind of life."

Sons of Perdition

Marquee Screenings
Tuesday, Oct. 26, 8pm, Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum; Thursday, Oct. 28, 9pm, Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sons of Perdition, Austin Film Festival, Tyler Measom, Jennilyn Merten, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FLDS, Warren Jeffs

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