This year has been the year of the cult exposé, with Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief premiering on HBO earlier this year. Now, Showtime is throwing it's hat into the ring with the premiere of Prophet's Prey, a look into the life of child rapist/cult leader Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the breakaway Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS for short.
Prophet's Prey premiered on Showtime on October 10 and the film centers around the FLDS, the secluded polygamist Mormon sect, and its leader, Warren Jeffs. The documentary is based heavily on two books, Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, and Prophet's Prey by Sam Brower, both of whom serve as producers for the film. The documentary focuses on Jeffs' reign as self-appointed prophet of the FLDS, and his exploits in Short Creek (the nickname for the twin FLDS towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona), and the Yearning for Zion compound in Texas.
FBI investigations found that Jeffs had 78 wives--29 were former stepmothers (young women he married to his dying father), 56 were sisters or half-sisters (related to each other, not to him), 35 were former students of his, and 24 were girls under the age of eighteen and half of these were under sixteen.
Below, Jeffs with his 12-year-old child bride Merrianne Jessop on their "wedding day"
Berg was unable to get a face-to-face interview with Jeffs, but the documentary is peppered with both video and audio clips of Jeffs, from his dull, monotonous voice delivering sermons to his people, being interviewed during his indictment, videos from his jail cell, and the incredibly disturbing piece of evidence that helped condemn him in the eyes of the Texas jury: an excerpt from the audio recording of the rape of 12-year-old Merrianne Jessop, found in Jeffs' car during his 2006 arrest. In the short clip in the film, Jeffs can be heard breathing heavily as a bed creaks, and then asking the girl how she feels. A meek little voice replies, "It feels good, thank you."
Jeffs, who was arrested in August of 2006, was indicted in three states with charges ranging from incest, rape, accomplice to rape, sexual conduct with minors, sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children. He was sentenced to life plus twenty years for the rapes of 12-year-old Merrianne Jessop and 14-year-old Veda Keate. Although the prosecution did not have hard proof that Jeffs had raped his other underage wives (though he undoubtedly did), the audio recording of Jessop's rape, and a DNA test on Keate's daughter made sure he would never see the outside of his jail cell.
Brent Jeffs, one of Warren's nephews, details his own sexual abuse at the hands of his uncle, and one of Warren's former wives, Janetta Jessop, also appears in the film to talk about her marriage to the FLDS leader when she was only seventeen. The film interweaves their stories with Jeffs' run from the law, arrest and trial, as well as photos of him with his child brides.
Director Amy Berg stated that she felt it was important for the audience to hear the clip of Merrianne Jessop's assault as well as the other victims' stories. “In my experience, in doing films that have had victims of sexual abuse in the story, the people that are the most recovered are those who speak out about it at a young age and [manage to] find justice by reporting their perpetrator.”
The film premiered at Sundance in January and began a limited theatrical release in September. Berg says that the impact in Short Creek has been shocking: “A hundred women have escaped since the film came out, because Sam [Brower] is out screening the film and talking to people. The word of mouth has spread.”
Dax Shephard and Kristin Bell attend ArcLight Cinema's Q&A session for "Prophet's Prey" with the film's director, Amy Berg, and producer, Sam Brower (who wrote the book the documentary is partially based on)
source, article summarized/paraphrased by me; photo source