Sundance ’15: Berg’s “Prophet’s Prey” tackles cult leader Jeffs

Director Amy Berg (pictured) discussed using a variety of tools - including drones - to tell the story of convicted cult leader Warren Jeffs during a Sundance Q&A. for her Showtime doc Prophet's Prey.
January 30, 2015

Just a day after Scientology documentary Going Clear premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, another non-fiction entry debuted that tackled the themes of corruption, controversy and religion.

Prophet’s Prey, directed by West of Memphis helmer Amy Berg (pictured above) and commissioned by Showtime, covers the polygamous elements of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church).

Specifically, it reports on the nightmare reign of former FLDS Church president Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault in 2011.

The film is based on private detective Sam Brower’s book of the same name, which follows up on Jon Krakauer’s best seller Under the Banner of Heaven; both men are the film’s most prominent subjects.

While there was no Going Clear-like standing ovation following the film’s Park City premiere, there was still a riveted full house from beginning to end. Before the film began, Berg humorously stated that of all the projects she has directed, this one was the “most appropriate,” due, of course to the proximity of the subject matter.

That would be Utah, and the movie lays out quite clearly how a small offshoot of the more mainstream LDS Church had slowly become a cult-ish prison where anything light and entertainment-driven – such as toys, TV, newspapers, holidays – was, methodically and over time, banned once Jeffs assumed control of the Church from his father, Rulon.

But as it paints the broad strokes of a madman, it also dives specifically into his penchant for multiple marriages and, more specifically, the systematic abuse of young girls all in the name of religion. Through audio tapes and victim testimony, Jeffs is portrayed as being every bit the sadistic monster a courtroom says he was when he was sentenced to life in prison.

At the end of the film, Berg welcomed the film’s subjects and crew members on stage for an enlightening Q&A session. One notable point made was the fact that drones were used to fly over the FLDS Church compounds and secure video footage of the families, since anyone driving in and filming would have been detained.

Prophet’s Prey also touches on the organization’s finances and claims that Jeffs had amassed a fortune because he demanded that all money from Church members be handed over. Since that included business profits, several audience members wanted to know which companies they may have heard of were also FLDS Church contributors.

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.