'Journey to Bethlehem' director shares how God called him to counter 'darkness' in Hollywood

Journey to Bethlehem movie cover, 2023
Journey to Bethlehem movie cover, 2023 | Journey to Bethlehem movie

Grammy Award-nominated songwriter Adam Anders is behind some of the most well-known musical projects, including "Glee" and "Rock of Ages." But he believes God was using those mainstream projects as training for his directorial debut, “Journey to Bethlehem.” 

“I’ve been in training for years,” the Grammy Award-nominated songwriter and producer told The Christian Post. 

Nearly two decades ago, God put the idea for a live-action musical about the Nativity, from Mary and Joseph’s engagement until the birth of Jesus Christ, on Anders’ heart — but it wasn’t until recently that he felt called to put his extensive training toward a faith-based project. 

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“It’s been a process, and I've been working with the best for the best in the business for the last 17 years, and you learn things,” Anders reflected. 

“I was in school. Obviously, I was involved in many stories that weren't things that I would want to tell as a storyteller. But that's one of those things that we all deal with in all of our jobs: How are you in the world and not of the world? Nothing is more front and center than living in Hollywood and working as a Christian. You're kind of a man on an island. It's been hard at times, but I felt like that's where I'm supposed to be; I don't think all Christians should disengage from culture. I think if we can affect culture where pop culture is created, that's where we should be. But now, I’m at a part of a time in my life where I’m ready to tell my stories. And this is the most important story in my life.”

Hitting the big screen on Nov. 10, “Journey to Bethlehem” stars Fiona Palomo (“Outer Banks”) as Mary, with Milo Manheim (“Zombies”) playing Joseph. Antonio Banderas plays Herod, while rapper Lecrae plays the angel Gabriel. Joel Smallbone of for KING & COUNTRY and his wife, singer Moriah, also star in the film. 

“God orchestrated this movie, the people that He brought into it,” Anders said. “Every single person involved in this wanted to be there, and it was personal to them. Even Antonio Banderas, he's a very, very strong man of faith. And he wanted to tell the story, and it's been amazing to see how it's been orchestrated, and I'm just kind of along for the ride to some degree.”

A “musical adventure for the entire family,” "Journey to Bethlehem" features classic Christmas songs and new pop-styled holiday tunes written for the movie. Though infused with humor — usually thanks to the Wise Men, who contribute some comic relief — it tells the very human story of a burdened young woman, a conflicted young man and an evil king. It’s the first musical released from Affirm Films, the Christian branch of Sony.

Anders, a lifelong Christian whose parents were in the ministry, said he believes music is a conduit to share the Gospel with a wide audience. Music, he said, can "penetrate the soul" in ways that mere words cannot. 

“I wanted to find a way to bring this story to people who maybe aren't believers and do it in a way that's not watered down, but also it's digestible for everyone. And that's a balance … I think music is a great way to do it.”

Because “Journey to Bethlehem” is a modern retelling of the biblical account, Anders said the film takes some creative liberties. For example, "in the Bible, they didn't sing and dance to pop songs,” he said. And with the portrayal of the three Wise Men, Anders said he was inspired by how they are commonly depicted in Nativity scenes and paintings, even if not entirely scripturally accurate.

He acknowledged that taking creative license with a Bible story can be “tricky” and stressed he was committed to sticking to the Biblical narrative wherever possible. Every day, before shooting, Anders said he prayed on his knees, asking God to give him the wisdom to tell the story in a way that would further the Kingdom. 

“I started every day of the shoot on my knees, praying that God would use this and use me to tell it the way He wanted it to be told,” he said. "Hopefully, I was able to stay true to that.”

“There were a lot of non-Christians in the crew, or maybe people who had been in the church before, and it was healing even to be a part of it on set,” he added. “I said, ‘If nobody ever sees this movie, this was still a mission field. It still accomplished something.’ And it's just been really amazing to see the power of the story.”

Anders said he hopes “Journey to Bethlehem” becomes an enduring classic that not only entertains but also sparks conversations about the true meaning of Christmas.

"Elf" is a great movie, but that's not Christmas,” he said. “I want people to start asking questions about this story. I want parents to be able to show this to their kids and their kids go, ‘Tell me more.’ This is just a little piece of the story. I hope it starts a conversation. I think it can reignite faith in someone who is struggling … there is joy after you've seen this movie, you feel better, not because of what we did, but because of what the story is about. It brings hope.”

And after decades working in Hollywood, Anders said he sees “Journey to Bethlehem” as “counterprogramming” to some of the dark content he’s seen emerge in recent years. 

“There's a lot of dark content being made in Hollywood. I love this as counterprogramming to that. I love that this brings joy and light, but number one, I want people to sit down every Christmas and go, ‘This is what we are celebrating,’” he said.

“Journey to Bethlehem” hits theaters on Nov. 10.

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

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