The Other Side of Heaven

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The Other Side of Heaven
DVD cover
Directed by Mitch Davis
Produced by
Screenplay by Mitch Davis
Based on In the Eye of the Storm 
by John H. Groberg
Music by Kevin Kiner
Cinematography Brian J. Breheny
Edited by Steven Ramirez
  • 3Mark Entertainment
  • Molen/Garbett Productions
Distributed by Excel Entertainment Group
Release dates
  • December 14, 2001 (2001-12-14)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Budget $7 million
Box office $4.8 million[1]

The Other Side of Heaven is a 2001 American adventure drama film written and directed by Mitch Davis based on John H. Groberg's non-fiction book In the Eye of the Storm. The film stars Christopher Gorham as Groberg and Anne Hathaway as Jean Groberg (née Sabin).[2][3]

The film is about John Groberg's experience as a Mormon missionary in the Tongan islands in the 1950s and is based on a true story from the book that he wrote about his experiences, In the Eye of the Storm. The film focuses on Groberg's adventurous experiences and trials while serving as a missionary in the South Pacific. While portraying these events, the film discusses little LDS theology, focusing instead on the Mormon missionary experience.


During the 1950s, John Groberg, who grew up in Idaho Falls, is called on a mission to Tonga. There he will spend three years as Elder Groberg teaching about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His first adventures are just in getting there, including a short time in a Fijian jail.

When Elder Groberg does get to Tonga, he is sent to a group of remote islands. There he is partnered with a Tongan, Feki, who speaks English. But Elder Groberg finds that what he has learned of the Tongan language is severely deficient, so he studies intensely to become proficient. He also learns the culture.

The island's minister tells the people not to listen to the missionaries. Later, he even sends three men to beat up the missionaries. But one of them, Tomasi, had been baptized a Mormon, so Elder Groberg and Feki were spared. This man later begins coming to the meetings and is chosen by Elder Groberg to be one of his counselors to the local congregations.

A local young woman, at the behest of her family, attempts to seduce Elder Groberg. She wants "a half white baby." She eventually relents because he is saving himself for Jean, the young woman he left back home, who communicates to him through letters.

While travelling at sea, Elder Groberg and his two counselors are caught in a large storm. He is washed overboard and is in fear of his life. He is later rescued and returned to Fiji.

A hurricane hits the island. Many of the trees are stripped bare, homes are destroyed and many people are killed. The remaining leaders have people gather up what food and fresh water is available so that rationing can begin. But the supply boat takes much longer than anticipated. The inhabitants of the island begin dying of starvation and dehydration. Elder Groberg is himself close to death when the island's minister gives him the last of his food, because he is old and Elder Groberg is young. When the supply boat does arrive, the minister is found to have died. The minister is given an honorable funeral.




The Other Side of Heaven is based on John Groberg's book entitled In the Eye of the Storm. Deseret Book, who owned the rights to the book, was hesitant to sell the rights for a movie due to concerns about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be portrayed in the film. The fact that the producer, the director, and many of the filming crew were Latter-day Saints alleviated this concern. Deseret Book quickly sold the rights to the book allowing the film to be made.

Gerald R. Molen, the producer, had worked on several notable films, including The Color Purple, Rain Man, Schindler's List, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He won an Academy Award for his work in Schindler's List and is a Latter-day Saint. Mitch Davis, the director, had worked on several Disney films before this film. He won a CAMIE Award for this film, which was shared with Gerald R. Molen and several film crew members. He is a Latter-day Saint.


The title of the film was changed from In the Eye of the Storm to The Other Side of Heaven to avoid confusion with The Perfect Storm, which had been released a year earlier.


Gorham was cast as Groberg because of his ability to balance the seriousness of the role with lighter, more comedic moments. He learned how to speak the Tongan parts with a flawless accent.[citation needed]

Hathaway was cast as Jean Groberg (née Sabin) in the film, her parts being shot towards the end of the production. She immediately began working on The Princess Diaries after completing work on this film. The film was shot on location in New Zealand, even the opening scenes set at Brigham Young University.

Polynesian actors were used for most of the roles. The less experienced ones relied heavily on the more experienced ones. The cast and crew enjoyed a great amount of cooperation from locals. When the film crew arrived on the Island of Rarotonga (capital of the Cook Islands), the Prime Minister welcomed them by gathering all of the religious ministers of the community for a prayer meeting. They prayed that the film crew would be blessed with good weather. The photographs in the opening scenes are of the actual people portrayed in the film, provided by John H. Groberg.

The real Groberg, his wife Jean, one of his grandsons and one of his daughters with her husband can be seen at the very end during the wedding scene. As the camera pans from right to left, his daughter, then her husband, then the grandson, then John are taking a picture of the couple, and his wife is next to him clapping.


During the opening dance scene, extras were hired from almost every swing club in New Zealand. Gorham and Hathaway did most of their own dancing. Hathaway was kicked in the head in one of the takes and was nearly knocked out.

The scenes where Groberg learns the Tongan language were altered slightly for dramatic effect. He did isolate himself and study the Bible in both English and Tongan and went without food and water for several days. However, he spent time in a bush, rather than on a beach.

Groberg and Feki's hut was recreated from photographs, an authentic replica of the one that they actually lived in.

Groberg really did have rats eat the soles of his feet while he slept. When he awoke that morning, they split open, and the members of his branch helped treat his feet. He spent time outside with his feet pointed up at the sun in order to sear the soles of his feet with the heat from the sun. Later in life, he was diagnosed with skin cancer on the soles of his feet due to exposure to the sun. His doctor was puzzled about how he could have exposed the soles of his feet to the sun. Groberg responded to his doctor, "Have I got a story to tell you..."

A boy really did fall from a mango tree. He was on his way to a church meeting on Tuesday. He climbed the tree because it had very good mangoes. He fell out of the tree and was knocked out. When he awoke on Thursday after being treat by Groberg, he was worried that he was late to his church meeting.

The real Feki's father was not a drinking man, nor did he beat his wife. Liberties were taken in order to combine several characters. This particular alteration was done with the permission of the real Feki's children.


The first cut of the film was 135 minutes and the final one was 113 minutes.[4]


The film's release was delayed for the release of the other Disney film, The Princess Diaries, also starring Hathaway. It was hoped that the success of that film would garner a following for Hathaway and bring in extra earnings for this film. Disney only had part in the DVD release, and it was distributed by Excel Entertainment Group.

Box office[edit]

The Other Side of Heaven opened theatrically on December 14, 2001 in two venues, earning $55,765 in its opening weekend, ranking number 41 in the domestic box office.[5] By the end of its run, almost a year later on December 2, 2002, the film grossed $4,720,371 domestically and $39,643 overseas for a worldwide total of $4,760,014.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 29% rating based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "The Other Side of Heaven preaches to the converted; others will likely consider it simplistic, even offensive, propaganda."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a 38 out of 100 rating based on 16 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[7]


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