Limited Release of ‘Missional Film’ The Pilgrim’s Progress Hits Theaters April 18, 20
Executive Producer Steve Cleary says that those serving in missions may receive the film free. 'We're mission-minded first.'
“Really, everybody is on a journey. Everybody’s on a path,” Steve Cleary said to The Stream. “You have to ask ‘What is the destination of the path I’m on? Where does it lead?'”
Cleary’s path led him to make a movie based on John Bunyan’s 340-year-old book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. An allegory on the Christian life, the story features a character named “Christian” who travels from the City of Destruction (his home) to the Celestial City (heaven). Fathom Events will host a two-night showing of the animated film on April 18 and 20.
Bunyan, a preacher, wrote the story from prison in 17th century England. Bunyan spent 12 years behind bars because he refused to stop preaching. The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Journey From This Life to That Which is to Come was published after he was freed.
Cleary is an executive producer of the film with Revelation Media. He says the story belongs to the Christian. “The Pilgrim’s Progress is our story. … [W]e are Christian. We are the pilgrim. … So we face the same trials and struggles.” John Bunyan pointed people to the “King’s path.” Like the character in the movie, people often carry heavy burdens — sins — before they become a Christian. Repentance and salvation remove those sins as far as the east is to the west.
But Cleary notes that just because someone chooses to follow Christ it doesn’t mean that they won’t have problems. “When trials come, people say, ‘Why? Why is this happening? Didn’t I do everything right? I’m on the King’s path. How come I am facing this?’ Bunyan is basically saying, ‘The trials start after you become a Christian.’ So, for Christian in our film … his real trials come after he loses the burden.”
By making this movie, Cleary hopes to keep the story alive. “Our goal is, when people see the movie, they go read the book [and] study the allegory.” He adds that “in our movie, Christian travels through 15 different worlds to get to the Celestial City. Every one of those worlds has either a help, a temptation, or a trial. Just like our own lives.”
A Film for the Mission Field
The film wasn’t just for American audiences. On the contrary, Cleary made it with the mission field in mind. Revelation Media said in a statement that because the film’s both animated and an allegory, governments hostile to Christianity don’t see it as a threat to their people” the way they would the Bible or The Jesus Film. It “offers missionaries, leaders of house churches, educators, and pastors around the world a free resource to share Gospel-truths via the powerful story of Christian and his burden.”
Cleary learned from a trip to Colombia the powerful nature of animated films and illustrations. He delivered illustrated children’s Bibles along with school packs to children of Colombia’s guerillas. “Every one of those kids took out the Bible and took it back to the guerillas. No problems whatsoever.”
When people ask how the guerillas could kill pastors yet take a children’s Bible, Cleary explains that they look at a pastor as a politician. They view the Bible as simply stories about Jesus.
Cleary learned that there’s a wider acceptance of a message when presented in a colorful and fictional world. “We believe we can show this film in a guerilla camp. We can show this film to Muslims. We can show this film to Hindus because it’s animated. It just really translates so well internationally. And it’s loved. Animation is loved by young and old.”
While America is watching the film during Easter weekend, 6 million Iranians will see it on satellite TV. “So all Easter weekend this film will be in Iran and parts of Afghanistan in the Farsi language.” His group is also sending 10,000 micro SD cards to China. “They put them in phones and then they share them with one another.”
In the Philippines a school superintendent-principal is taking the film to the schools in his area. At first, he asked for English. Cleary said no. “I want to put it in the language the kids understand the best. I want them to feel like this is not a movie you’ve taken from the West and turned the subtitles on. No, this is a movie for you.”
Free Movie for Mission-Minded Organizations
What’s more, Cleary is offering to provide the film at no cost to those doing missionary work. “Our film is free to the global missions community. We will translate the film. Our goal is to translate it into 100 languages. If you’re a missionary, if you’re a mission organization, if you’re evangelizing, our film is free to you — in the language you need it in.” Once the film is translated into 100 languages, it will reach over 90 percent of the world’s population in viewers’ first or second languages.
Cleary can distribute the movie free of charge because the film has remained completely independent. He stayed away from big distributors, studios and traditional funding routes because they would not have allowed him to distribute the film for free. “Ministries have helped us, donors helped us, Christian investors helped us. Over the past five years we’ve had help from many different places. Now we have a film that whenever somebody emails me [to watch it for free], I can say ‘Yes.'”
What it Means to be a Christian
Cleary wants to get people talking about what it really means to be a Christian. People have a fantasy that once they become a Christian everything’s okay. But when difficulties come, they can’t handle them. They begin to question their faith. When that happens, Cleary said people miss the point. “We live in a world that’s corrupt and we seek eternity,” he says.
Every day that we get up do we say ‘How is my walk today going to further bring me closer to God, bring me closer to eternity and to encourage others to join me?’ I think too often we get caught up in our everyday lives, that we forget this is not the Promised Land.
“We are pilgrims on a journey,” he explains. “The more we remember that, I think the more faith we gain, the more perseverance, the better witness we are, and the more people we ultimately will bring with us.”
You Can Help
Christians can do three things to help get the message out about Pilgrim’s Progress. First, buy tickets early for the film. “Show the theaters we’re serious about these types of films … Let’s show them we’d like to see more classic family stories.” Second, pray. “Pray for us as we go off into the mission field.” Third, spread the message. “Figure out how you can get the word out missionally so people can use this as a tool.”
The film is the “book on-screen,” says Cleary. “My goal is that if John Bunyan were to watch the movie, he would feel honored that we held true to his vision and his writing.”
The Pilgrim’s Progress will be shown in select theaters on April 18 and April 20.