Documentary asks burning questions

Hellbound is written, directed and produced by Abbotsford residents Kevin Miller and David Rempel.

Hellbound producer David Rempel at a Chilliwack cemetery.

Hellbound producer David Rempel at a Chilliwack cemetery.

by Jennifer Feinberg, Black Press

It’s a provocative documentary film that claims people will never look at hell the same way again.

Hellbound? is written and directed by Kevin Miller and produced by Abbotsford resident David Rempel.

The film asks some age-old questions about the afterlife within the context of church doctrines: Does hell really exist, and if so, who goes there, and why?

The filmmakers interview a lively group of pastors, theologians and social commentators who all weigh in, along with authors and musicians.

Friends Miller and Rempel now live in Abbotsford, but they’ve been jet-setting across the continent for the premieres of their controversial film.

“It’s been crazy, the attention it’s getting, and we’ve received some really good reviews,” said Rempel.

There were more than a million hits to the trailer just on iTunes alone.

“When the movie was launched in Nashville on Sept. 12 it was to a sold-out audience.”

It’s set to be released in Canada by Cineplex Entertainment on Oct. 12 at the Langley Colossus.

Chilliwack plays a cameo role in the film, when author Brad Jersak, Abbotsford author of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, is interviewed by the filmmakers in a local cemetery on Little Mountain.

“The vista from the cemetery was very cinematic,” said Rempel.

Rempel is a Sardis secondary grad who left Chilliwack at 24, to start a career in filmmaking in Los Angeles. With his degree in cinema from Biola University in L.A., he’s toiled in the industry as a story editor and producer, doing work for Hallmark and Lifetime.

For this film, he was asked by Miller to come aboard as producer. He also got involved in the creative process, travelling to 22 U.S. states, as well as Denmark and Canada for on-camera interviews.

Q&A sessions follow the premieres, and speakers bandy about concepts like “annihilationism,” where the souls of the damned are extinguished after the Day of Judgment, or “universalism,” where everyone is eventually reconciled to God with no eternal lake of fire or roasting flesh.

“In every case, the post-screening discussion has been passionate and invigorating,” writes Miller in his  blog, at www.hellboundthemovie.com.

“I’ve met a lot of interesting folks, including several people I’ve become friends with online. It’s great to see so many people connecting with the film.”

The crux is that the traditional view of hell also presents a dilemma. If God is truly the all-loving and merciful Creator, can he really participate in the torture and suffering of sinners for eternity?

It’s all been a bit surprising, all the kerfuffle, and the deal they struck.

“In terms of getting distribution, the film had two strikes against it right from the start,” Rempel said. “One, it’s a faith-based film and two, it’s a documentary.

“To have been able to sign with two of the biggest theater chains in America was a surprise. After all we were expecting to go the route of the independent distribution model.”

The producer says he grew up in the Sardis Community Church, knowing only one viewpoint, that of the traditional concept of hell.

“Some would say the church has relegated the gospel to a hell avoidance plan, and that’s not good news. That takes us away from what is good news and instills fear.”

So does the documentary ultimately seek to change people’s minds? No, says the producer.

“We are a justice-driven society and we tend to like things in black and white. But the point of the film is that it’s not black and white.”

He expects everyone will interpret the film through the lens of their own experiences.

“I’m not expecting the movie to change people’s doctrines, as much as I hope it will make us stop and look critically at how we relate to each other,” said Rempel. “We can look at how we interpret the ancient texts, and try to act more graciously toward each other.”