'Journey to Bethlehem' creators talk treating Nativity story with 'reverence,' spiritual opposition amid filming

Journey to Bethlehem
Journey to Bethlehem | Sony Affirm

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The creative forces behind the Nativity musical “Journey to Bethlehem” have opened up about the spiritual opposition they faced while bringing to life the story of Jesus’ birth and walking the delicate balance between adhering to Scripture and exercising creative liberties. 

At the red carpet premiere of “Journey to Bethlehem,” Grammy-nominated director Adam Anders revealed he felt spiritual opposition “every day” of filming — the same kind of opposition he felt in 2016 when creating the musical “The Passion.” 

“I think that's just the way it is when you take on a story like this, and you're trying to get something into the dark world, some light and hope and joy and the love of Christ. You're going to have opposition; you’ve just got to expect it,” he said.

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“I have a target on my back. We felt more spiritual attacks on our family this year than I think we've ever experienced. It's been crazy. But we're here. God is good. Got us through, and we're excited to see what He is going to do with this movie.”

But the process of making “Journey to Bethlehem,” which Anders said took him 17 years from the first idea to the final cut, strengthened his faith in ways he never imagined. It necessitated a deep reliance on his faith to navigate the numerous sacrifices, including being away from his family for six months. 

“My faith has been really challenged, and I think strengthened through this. It's been really hard,” he said. “I mean, we'll say it's been probably the hardest year of our lives when making this movie, but also the most gratifying. Every day, I had to start on my knees just to get through each day."

“I moved away for six months from my family just to do it; it was a lot of sacrifice,” he added. “And that makes you really have to get closer to God, because there were days I didn't think I was going to get through it without my faith. So that's definitely strengthened my faith and made me appreciate what this story is about.”

Hitting theaters Nov. 10, the Sony-AFFIRM movie stars Antonio Banderas as King Herod, Fiona Palomo (“Outer Banks”) as Mary, Milo Manheim (“Prom Pact”) as Joseph, Lecrae as Gabriel, and husband-and-wife singers Joel and Moriah Smallbone. 

The film, a “live-action Christmas musical,” weaves classic Christmas melodies with new pop songs and features elaborate costumes and dance numbers. Anders penned the script along with Peter Barsocchini (“High School Musical”) and wrote the music with his wife, Nikki Anders (“Glee”) and Peer Astrom (“Rock of Ages”). 

Producer Alan Powell, who also produced the faith-based hit musical “A Week Away,” told CP the music in "Journey to Bethlehem" was crafted to complement the story without contravening the essence of the scriptural narrative. He noted that while they had to imagine beyond the scriptural verses, their commitment to the truth and reverence for the story was paramount.

“This story means so much to all of us that are involved, and it’s deeply important that we treat that truth and story with reverence and with respect and don't go against anything that we feel like is what Scripture tells us,” Powell said. 

“There's a lot of in-betweens; there's one verse about Joseph being a righteous man, deciding to divorce her in secret. That's basically all we know about Joseph. We wanted to tell a whole story about what that might have been like for him to go through when Mary told him that she was pregnant. You're gonna have to read between the lines a little bit."

“It was a constant journey, and one that we went on with reverence for the story and respect for the story, and hopefully told it in a way that introduces it to people who may have never heard the story before,” he added. “We had a lot of fun and a lot of respect for telling it in a way that honors the original Scripture, we hope.” 

Anders emphasized that while the movie is inspired by a true story, it is not a documentary — a note filmmakers include in the film. The filmmaker said his approach to the creative process was prayerful, seeking divine guidance on when to stay true to Scripture and when to fill in the gaps with imagination. 

“I wanted people to know the filmmaker believes this is true,” he said. “So watching it from that point of view is really important for me. But I look at all the great paintings that the great artists have done throughout the history of the Nativity scene that are not biblically accurate, but we've accepted it as beautiful, and it's their artistic interpretation, it’s symbolism. And I felt like, if they could have that creative license, then at times I could as well.”

Powell added that in faith-based musicals, songs emerge when words are insufficient, using music to delve into profound truths and to provide an emotionally rich experience for the audience.

“When you're dealing with issues, thoughts, truths, or questions that you really want to wrestle with, and you really want to communicate in a way that can be super, super meaningful and emotional and impactful, use music,” he said. “I know that when music and film come together, it's my favorite thing in the world, and it moves me emotionally like nothing else can. So it's a privilege to be able to try to put together movies that do that for other people.”

Looking ahead, Anders said he’s fully aware of the spiritual opposition that comes with tackling faith-based projects, yet he’s resolved to continue telling more stories of this nature. 

“I joke that I just want to go make a soccer movie or a movie nobody cares about,” he said with a chuckle. “I just need a break. But absolutely, there are so many more stories like this I want to tell, so I'm going to have to do it. Just suck it up and just go for it.”

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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