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For director Adam Anders, “Journey to Bethlehem” is a dream come true.
The new, live-action musical chronicles the story of the birth of Jesus. It stars Antonio Banderas (Herod), Milo Manheim (Joseph), Fiona Palomo (Mary) and Geno Segers (Balthazar) and puts a contemporary twist on the musical element of the movie.
Anders is best known for his work as the producer of the “Glee” albums. His work earned him four Grammy nominations. Before now, much of Anders’ work has been in producing, but “Journey to Bethlehem” marks his directorial debut.
The story of how the film came together starts 17 years ago, Anders told me in a video call. He and his wife were visiting family in Iowa and he couldn’t find “anything to watch” that was both a Christmas movie and a musical.
Over the course of the last 17 years, Anders has tried to get the film made, but for one reason or another, he’s run into delays and roadblocks.
“It’s been challenged all along the way, but I think each challenge has made me learn something,” Anders said. “All the failures in trying to make this movie I think made me understand what I needed to do and do better.”
“It was in COVID where we got shut down,” he continued. “I had six months with nothing to do. I started over. I was like, ‘Let me just learn from all my mistakes and try to get this right.’ So, that ended up being a blessing to have that time to reflect and get it right.”
In the process of making the movie, Anders was praying every day. Throughout the development of the movie, he felt like his faith was growing stronger.
“I’ve had to rely on it to get through some of the hard times and some of the trials. I think even now there’s a strike and all these years trying to get a movie made and then, it’s coming out during the strike is really like, ‘Why? What’s going on?’” he said. But, he emphasized, “You’ve got to trust that there’s a plan and it’s going to work out.”
After nearly two decades, the movie is finally debuting on Nov. 10 in theaters.
“This is the most personal project I’ve ever done, and I’ve actually talked to my wife about it. I don’t know that I’ll ever have one that’s this special to me, to my faith,” Anders said.
The film certainly has faith elements in it, but Anders also wants to convince everyone to attend, regardless of if they are religious or not. He thinks everyone wants to “get in the Christmas spirit, whether you’re a believer or not” and his movie is a way to do that.
“It’s inclusive. It’s fun. The music is amazing,” he said. “Music unites people and it crosses borders and barriers and it pulls down the fence.”
“And because we’re telling the love story of Mary and Joseph, it’s like the original ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ We have a great villain in Herod and we have comic relief in The Wise Men. It’s everything you need to have a great family movie to sit down and watch and enjoy,” he added.
The process behind making the movie and music for the movie was intense, Anders said. He moved to Spain for six months to film and had to weave together the script with the songs.
“My favorite song in the movie is probably ‘Mother to a Savior and King’ because it’s so powerful and beautiful,” he said. “My wife and I, ... our first date was writing a song together, and now 25 years later, we’re still writing songs together. We feel like it’s the best song we’ve written.”
In addition to Anders directing the film, he and his wife, Nikki Anders, picked up credits as composers and producers.
While making the movie, Anders was laser-focused on coming up with a “fun and vibrant” film that also honored the story.
“It’s a true story for me. It’s part of my life and my faith. And it means so much to me,” he said. “So, I hope that comes across in the movie, even though we’re having fun with it.”
“I think it’s the most personal story I’ll ever tell, like I said. And I hope I’ve done it justice.”