Films with strong religious themes, such as “Heaven is for Real” and “Miracles from Heaven,” are growing in popularity. “The Pastor,” a new entry into this genre, has a grittier, more realistic feel than its counterparts. Screening at 400 theaters nationwide courtesy of Fathom Events, the film focuses on a former gang leader who finds new purpose in his faith.
“I’ve always been interested in creating stories and making films that are rooted in reality, that have a social pulse, a social relevance, a sense of urgency,” actor/writer Arturo Muyshondt explained during a one-on-one interview in Los Angeles. “And if people can be entertained, then yes. But they also can be educated and inspired. I love all kinds of movies; I go to the theater with my kids and watch very different types of movies.”
Muyshondt plays the title role, a gang leader who, through correspondence with the outside world, finds new purpose in the Bible. It’s a demanding, highly physical part, especially when the Pastor’s old and new lives collide in the plot.
“Once we finished shooting, you realized how much of a toll your body took. It was very physical and very emotional at the same time. We’re shooting five, six, seven pages a day. And if you see the character, sometimes he’s out fighting or he’s actually teaching Bible class, he’s giving out sermons. It’s very intense,” the actor added.
Nearly a decade of research
Muyshondt collaborated on the film with Deborah Goodwin, who wrote the screenplay from his original story and also directed.
“[Deborah and I] have known each other for a very long time. We became creative partners back in 2010, maybe five or 6 years ago. We started working on another project [‘The Two Lives of Maxi Kaplan’], which was what moved me to New York in the first place,” he explained. “We worked on that for a number of years and the financing fell through. And it was in my darkest of darkest moments that this story finally came to me.”
Dating back to 2005, the actor also did some research into kids and gangs, a theme which is prevalent in “The Pastor.”
“But I never wanted to exploit the violence in that world that I saw in jails and communities in Central America, Mexico and all throughout the United States,” Muyshondt said. “It took me almost 8 or 9 years before I came up with the story. Then I went to Deb and I said ‘I think I am going to shift gears; this is where we need to be heading.’ That’s how we put this movie together.”
While doing his research, Muyshondt saw how quickly the gang problem has been growing. “If you go to the FBI website, they have a specialized gang unit, particularly as how it relates to MS-13 gangs, which is Salvadoran. They are in 91 percent of the United States.”
Showing everyone as human beings
Muyshondt, who recently spoke at the United Nations conference on poverty and inequality, said the greatest strength of “The Pastor” is showing everyone as human beings, including the gang members.
“It’s not your typical/stereotypical depiction of a gang world. It’s very human, it’s very real. Everybody has a three-dimensional arc to their story. Every single character is going through emotional ordeals that we as humans go through. It tries to show that everybody has a choice, that we can actually transform ourselves in just a second if we make the right choices.”
In terms of his own personal appetite for the films that he wants to be involved with as an actor and producer, he always felt the greatest value lies in creating real stories with three-dimensional characters that can feel real to the audience. “You see yourself through the eyes of the character, through his journey, his emotional arc,” he added.
Fathom Events will present “The Pastor” in 400 theaters across the country on Monday, January 25.