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‘The Saratov Approach’ director planned for movie 15 years ago

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"The Saratov Approach" opens in select theaters on Oct. 9. (Photo courtesy of "The Saratov Approach")

“The Saratov Approach” opens in select theaters on Oct. 9. (Photo courtesy of “The Saratov Approach”)

Fifteen years ago headlines covered the nation’s newspapers about two LDS missionaries kidnapped in Saratov, Russia. Garrett Batty, a BYU film student at the time, tucked away news stories about these elders and planned someday to make a story of their experience.

Now, at last, these elders’ story is a full-length motion picture and Batty’s goal to make a movie about their experience has come to fruition.

“It peaked my interest as it did a lot of people, but I followed it and kept tabs on it,” said Batty, the director and writer of “The Saratov Approach.” “I didn’t do anything about it (in the past), because I wanted to be the one to write it and direct it.”

The movie tells the true story of Elders Travis Tuttle (Corbin Allred) and Andrew Propst (Maclain Nelson) on their LDS missions in Russia. The two young elders met Nikolai (Nikita Bogolyubov) on the streets and were invited to Nikolai’s house under the pretenses that they would be teaching a gospel message.

When Tuttle and Propst went to Nikolai’s apartment, they were beaten, taken hostage and held for ransom for five days.

“The movie is extremely accurate,” Travis Tuttle told 2News in an interview.

With the end result of the movie being obvious, the movie is more about the journey than the beginning and end result.

“When you see a headline, ‘Mormon missionary in peril,’ we read the facts of what led them to that, but we never get to see the spiritual side of the story,” Batty said.

A few years ago, Batty decided it was finally time to make his goal happen, so he contacted one of the elders on Facebook. Luck was on Batty’s side as both Propst and Tuttle agreed to allow Batty to make a film out of their experience.

For three days, Batty, Propst and Tuttle locked themselves in a room and they relived the experience that had happened 13 years prior.

“It was the first time they had ever told their story together,” Batty said. “It was almost as if they were finishing each other’s sentences.”

Batty listened to Propst and Tuttle with a director’s ear, trying to find the most visual elements to portray on the screen.

“I tried to pick the most cinematic elements and tried to identify with what they went through,” Batty said. “I tried to make a film that was entertaining because that is why people go to the theater. … Fortunately, this story already had that. It had these incredible stakes of two people we care about and they went on an incredible journey.”

After Batty wrote the script and prepared everything for filming, the actors and crew filmed the entire movie in just three weeks. In order to create the cold winter feel in Russia, all of the outside shots for the movie were filmed in Ukraine only six months ago. The inside scenes were filmed in Salt Lake.

“We made the film primarily to be entertaining,” Batty said. “I don’t want people to see it because they are Mormons, I want them to see it because it is entertaining with a positive message.”

With the increase in LDS missionaries this past year, some  are concerned about the effect this film will have on future missionaries and families of missionaries. However, Batty said the film has resolved some fears people have about the dangers of missionary work.

“What we have found is the moms that come out, they all have those feelings going into it,” Batty said. “Every one of them comes out of the film with tears in their eyes and they say, ‘Thank you for that.’ This film renews faith that these missionaries are on the Lord’s errands.

“It has almost been a tribute to the missionary moms. The amount of faith for a mother to send her son or daughter on a mission is immeasurable, and this movie recognizes that and is a tribute to missionary moms.”

The Saratov Approach” has free pre-release showings in Orem and Provo for Wednesday night, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. The movie officially opens in select theaters Wednesday, Oct. 9, throughout Utah.

Read the continuing story of the real-life elders here on their road to forgiveness.

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