Best of Tribeca: "Sons of Perdition"

Young men driven out of a polygamist Mormon sect are the focus of a moving and exciting documentary

Published May 3, 2010 2:20PM (EDT)

Joe Broadbent, Sam Zitting (Jennilyn Merten)
Joe Broadbent, Sam Zitting (Jennilyn Merten)

What could have been a piece of oddball, marginal Americana -- the boys and men ejected by a breakaway Mormon polygamist sect -- instead becomes a moving, thrilling yarn of heartland life and masculinity. "Sons of Perdition" may be a small film in terms of its focus and resources, but its emotional impact and cultural significance are enormous. This wasn't just the best documentary I saw at Tribeca but the best one I've seen so far this year. (I'm not dissing Banksy's "Exit Through the Gift Shop," by the way; that belongs in its own category.)

For obvious reasons, a polygamous society needs lots and lots of females and far fewer males, and Warren Jeffs' Fundamental Latter-day Saints sect in Colorado City, Ariz. (known to its inhabitants as "the Crick"), is no exception. Over the years, hundreds if not thousands of boys and men have left Colorado City (or been told to leave) and descended on nearby St. George, Utah, with nowhere to stay, no education, no birth certificate and little or no understanding of the world outside Jeffs' self-appointed community of salvation. In many cases, they've never played a video game or watched a DVD, and haven't heard of Barack Obama or Adolf Hitler.

Filmmakers Tyler Meason and Jennilyn Mertem follow a few Crick exiles through their painful transition into becoming Americans, and the stories are heartbreaking and full of drama. Universally, these young guys pine for the enormous families they left behind, and try to convince some of their brothers and sisters to break away from Colorado City as well. (Some do, or at least try to.) While there's nothing good to say about the mini-totalitarian society they have left behind, seeing these young men's unjaded simplicity and pure emotion casts our own society's failings into sharp relief. A challenging, thought-provoking viewing experience.


By Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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