Hellbound?: Understanding modern hell

In the entertaining documentary Hellbound?, Canadian director Kevin Miller tackles a fairly now notion of hell that seems to be gaining traction: There isn’t any. While for the longest time churches around the world preached about fire and brimstone for wicked souls, a dispassionate analysis of the Bible would reveal three versions of the netherworld: Eternal torment, annihilation and universalism.

“I grew up under the impression the Bible said only one thing about this topic, but it isn’t so. Not only that, the word ‘hell’ is not even in the Bible. In the Old Testament, the ancient Jews have no concept of the afterlife, and nothing about a place of eternal punishment”, explains the filmmaker.

A Saskatchewan native, Kevin Miller has a long career as a documentary writer. The most notorious title in his filmography is the maligned-yet-successful Expelled: No Intelligence Required. Miller would like to point out the final outcome was considerably different than the idea that inspired it. Unlike Expelled, Hellbound? is being independently distributed.

– How hard was to approach such an abstract concept for a documentary?

– As much as possible, we tried to be observational. The good thing about hell is that it makes for great imagery. We went to a Death Metal festival in which the whole thing revolves around images of hell. We also visited a hell-house in Texas, where people use fear to scare kids into becoming Christians. In addition, our goal was to capture the debate.

– Were you concerned about the density of the film?

– That’s always a struggle. You can’t win either way. If you make it too light, intellectual people may dismiss it. If it’s too deep, you may lose your broad audience. I felt I made a PhD on hell, but had to make my movie as a 101 class. People are calling Hellbound? cerebral, but I still feel is a bit like thin soup.

– In the film you mention how the idea of hell serves as selling point for many religions.

– The whole world uses fear to manipulate, and the church has been infected with that. However, I believe the church should be working against the fear-based world that we are living in and free the people from it.

– Was there a particularly challenging interview? I, for example, would have problems dealing with the Wesboro Baptist Church.

– Margie Phelps, the woman I interviewed, was very belligerent and tried to say hurtful things. It was such a surreal experience, I don’t think there is anything she could have said that would faze me. You can’t take it personally. They are angry, bitter people and I was the person at hand, so they vented at you.

– That said, most of your interviewees are smart and coherent, no matter how far their beliefs are from yours or mine.

– They are acting on their best information. I was consistently humbled by people you have preconceptions of and turn out to be really gracious, Mike Bickle from the International House of Prayer, in particular. He is often presented as this really scary person on the Right. Bickle is actually open and curious, comes hard on his views, but if you could convince him there is a better way to look at the Bible, he would embrace it.

– How would you say growing up in Saskatchewan shaped your worldview?

– Even though you dream of working in the film industry, you don’t believe there is a road that leads from Foam Lake to Hollywood. In a bigger city, you can be totally anonymous and lose the sense of community. When it comes to dialogue, people think they can abuse others because they don’t have to encounter them again. That doesn’t work in a small town setting.

– I saw Hellbound? without knowing you were one of the writers of Expelled: No Intelligence Required.

– I’ll say this. When I got involved with Expelled, it was a different movie than the one that ended up on screen. There were strong differences of opinion within the creative team. As it happens, the people with more power had the very antagonistic point of view the film took. I wish I had the chance to redo it. I think it’s an important debate, people with competing ideologies trying to hijack science for their own purposes. With Hellbound? I originated the project, raised the money and created my own job. I’m ultimately responsible for it.

Kevin Miller will be participating in a Q & A this Tuesday at the Southland Mall, immediately after the 7.30 pm screening.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

2 thoughts on “Hellbound?: Understanding modern hell”

  1. Hey Jorge,
    A funny thing. I interviewed Kevin Miller by e-mail back in ’09 about Expelled (which was a really, really horrible film, btw — not just misleading but also kind of corrupt).

    I put the full conversation up on our old blog http://prairiedogmag.blogspot.ca/2009/01/interview-revue-08-kevin-miller-writer.html

    Wish I’d known about this screening sooner. Looks like I won’t be able to make it. And I’d like to meet Kevin. He seemed like an okay guy from what little I could glean through a series of e-mails but have to say I still have some lingering questions for him.

  2. Hi Paul;
    He mentioned your article during our interview. I must say, I quite liked Hellbound? It’s not particularly leading and it’s serious on its approach. Kevin will also appear in Saskatoon tonight. Cheers.

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