California School of the Arts

‘The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire and Faith’ Director Mitch Davis aims to unite people and inspire faith

Eighteen years after the first revolutionary film comes “The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire and Faith.” In the first movie, missionary John H. Groberg (Christopher Gorham) visited Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 South Pacific islands. Through all costs, he makes it his goal to preach and survive through the storm.

Mitch Davis, the director and producer of both films, held off on creating the second film, but was persuaded to tell the whole story to the world. Now, Groberg returns to Tonga in the 1960s with his wife and five young daughters. However, their sixth child is born with a serious illness and their family faces the ultimate test of faith.

“When I made [the first] film, I really had no idea that I had made such an impact. It’s really only in looking back now and receiving some of those accolades from other people that I can even begin to consider that [impact] might have been correct,” Davis said, in an interview over the phone.

A still from “The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith.” (Image courtesy of Two Roads Productions/Disney)

“The Other Side of Heaven” was based on his book “In the Eye of The Storm.” With an exploding effect on audiences, it ushered forward the genre of faith-based films. The sequel draws from Groberg’s memoirs in “The Fire of Faith.”

“The hardest thing about making a movie that is based on a true story is getting as much of the good true stuff as you can, without creating the appearance that you’ve made it all up,” Davis said. “Taking those 600 pages and taking the best parts out of them and putting them all in a blender to make a 100 page screenplay, that’s really hard.”

Initially, Davis wanted to become a sports writer for his local newspaper, he said. However, when he became a missionary, he felt the instigation to make a film about the experiences as a missionary. This prompted him to change directions completely and pursue a career in filmmaking. In that journey, he discovered Groberg’s book and knew he had to tell the world.

“Both films really demonstrate the common humanity that exists between people of different cultures and religious traditions,” Davis said. “We all are one big family if we’ll just let some of our cynicism and suspicion get out of the way.”

However, on the very first day of principal photography, Cyclone Keni, a category 3 cyclone, hit. Businesses, schools, and roads were closed, but they continued to work. Every minute, they listened to the radio and tracked the storm.

“Locals could not believe it. It was kind of a courageous and silly thing to do. We said a few prayers and we worked until 1 o’clock when the police came and chased us off,” Davis said. “Miraculously, the storm turned around before it hit our set. Making a movie is always scary.”

A still from “The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith.” (Image courtesy of Two Roads Productions/Disney)

One of Davis’ goals in making the movie was to help eliminate the stigma that people have created around faith, hence the film’s subtitle: “Fire of Faith.”

“People of faith are typically depicted as being xenophobic, narrow-minded people. I think that’s unfair and it’s a shame because faith is what makes impossible things possible,” Davis said. “[Faith] is a fire worth keeping alive. This movie blends faith with unconditional love. Our planet needs all the encouragement we can get. We [have] to love and respect each other.”

Davis said 70% of the crew came from New Zealand, 30% came from the US, and 90% of their infrastructure was from Fiji. Muslims, Christians and atheists came together to tell the same story.

“The best thing about making this movie was that it was a multicultural, multinational group that came together to make it,” Davis said. “You get hit by a cyclone and you all have to become one family. You start out complete strangers and then you end as brothers and sisters.”