The documentary "After Death", which has strong ties to Southern Manitoba including several of the producers being from Winkler (Henry Friesen, Tyler Friesen and Jon Doell), has been nominated for two awards, and continues to reach milestones its creator never expected. The film explores the question "What happens after we die?" through real near-death experiences of survivors, conversations with scientists, authors and more.
The film is up for the "Epiphany Award for Movies" at the upcoming Movieguide Faith and Values Awards. Meanwhile, the original soundtrack for "After Death", composed by Hannah Parrott, has received a nod in the emerging artist category at the Society of Composers and Lyricists awards. Both events will be happening later this month in Los Angeles, California.
Writer and Director Stephen Gray, who lives in Winnipeg and works at Triple E Recreational Vehicles, never expected the independent film to reach the heights it has, noting over one million tickets were sold during its three week North American release.
"We never figured a little independent doc, made in Manitoba, would have this big of a reach," shared Gray in conversation with CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Host Chris Sumner. "We never really were sure how it was going to be received, and that's what I think was our biggest surprise."
The film hit a peak screen count of 2,700 across North America during its run, and quickly became the highest grossing faith-based documentary of all-time. Gray noted those two things were very exciting, but noted they weren't the most important part of this journey.
"The reason we did it was really to point people toward God, and the executive producers felt the same," explained Gray. "We're all passionate about what this film could do for people. It's not just a piece of entertainment, although we feel like it's very entertaining, it's meant to inspire people to think about the life we're living here, and then also the life to come."
The response from those who watched the film has been tremendous.
"It was tens of thousands of people that had written us talking about what the film meant to them, but also opening up about very deeply personal things, struggles they had in their life," he explained. "This film, it met them where they were at, and it caused them to think about restoring relationships with people that they hadn't talked to in years. It made them think about this reality of heaven, where they didn't really think about it before."
Considering the journey to make "After Death" was six-plus years, and was prompted by the passing of his brother-in-law, Gray noted it's been "the best feeling" to see the reaction to it.
"These stories had a huge impact on me personally, and my whole family," he said. "The idea was always we want to share that with other people, and the best way to share it was in this this feature length format. It's this chorus of stories that was always really inspiring for me, and finally I get to share that with people."
Another milestone the film reached is screening globally, including Croatia and opening this week in Latin America on approximately 400 to 600 screens.
"It's amazing, again, it's like only God that could do this," he shared. "Right now, twelve countries around the world, the first of which was Croatia. What's special about that, to me, is my wife's family is from Croatia. My brother-in-law, who I lost, is the reason I even made this film. Their family's from Croatia, and so family out there gets to see it."
And looking to the future, what's the next project for Gray and the team surrounding him?
"One is a series based off of "After Death", but it basically takes place around the world," he noted. "It's looking at what happens in other cultures, and in other places, around the world with near-death experiences. I think we kind of tease that in the film that these stories do happen everywhere, and they do point to a God, they do point to heaven, and it's specific and it's the same all around the world. What better way to show that than actually going to these places and finding that for ourselves?"
You can listen to Chris Sumner's conversation with Stephen Gray, below.