Angel Studio's newest project, "After Death," releases in theaters October 27th across Canada and the United States. This film explores one of life's biggest mysteries - "what happens when we die?" with New York Times bestselling authors, doctors, scientists, and survivors. The film's director Stephen Gray is a multidisciplinary filmmaker based out of Winnipeg, Canada. We are honored to catch up with him to talk about the new project.
Q: Stephen, thanks for doing this interview with us. Can you tell us briefly what AFTER DEATH is about?
Thanks for having me. After Death is a feature film that explores the question what happens after we die, based on real near-death experiences, conveyed by scientists, authors, and survivors. From the New York Times bestselling authors who brought you titles like Evidence for the Afterlife, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Imagine Heaven, and To Heaven and Back, emerges a cinematic peek beyond the veil that examines the spiritual and scientific dimensions of mortality, inviting us to wonder: Is there life after death?
Q: What inspired you to make a movie about death and the afterlife?
I've been a filmmaker for about 15 years, primarily making commercials before this film. In 2012, my brother in law was tragically killed in a car wreck. He was 36 years old; here one moment and gone the next. We had no closure. With death at our doorstep, it caused me to ask really serious questions about the reality of life after death.
That's when I heard about stories of people who clinically died, had an experience, and came back.
I'll never forget the first I heard was an audio interview with Dr. Richard Ely. He had fallen two stories onto a cement sidewalk and died on impact. He started talking about being clothed in a translucent pure white gown. His descriptive language, as a doctor, of what he saw, heard, felt was so articulate.
30 books later, as a filmmaker, I wanted to know more and hear firsthand from the authors, their families, their doctors. I wanted to find out, did they really die? And I couldn't find anything out there like [After Death], so I went out and made it.
Q: What do you think happens to us when we die?
After having interviewed many people who have clinically died and recall their experience after death, in the first moments, my personal opinion is that during that process of death, many are experiencing this material, physical world and the spiritual world together. Many will describe that during a traumatic event, they leave their body, feel no pain, and have a "more conscious experience" than the experience in this life. Many describe having senses beyond what we have here (almost 50 senses), and experience time different than here.
Q: Are there realities such as heaven and hell? Can you tell us more about your views on them?
They seem to be a reality. But I honestly didn't think a lot about Heaven or Hell before going through dramatic grief and later learning about near-death experiences. In After Death, we interviewed 14 different people who clinically died and came back, later recalling their experience during death. Many are from the US, but we also interviewed some in far away non-western countries like India, Israel, South Korea. The country, continent, or culture didn't seem to have an influence on the experience someone had when they clinically died. Which, to me, pointed to the reality of life after. Many of the reports of what people experience almost perfectly overlap. In our film, we include 3 accounts of people who had Hellish (otherwise known as distressing) near-death experiences. Which was hard for them to come forward and talk about - much harder than someone opening up about having had a Heavenly experience. But we wanted to be honest about the types of experiences people have during death, and this was one of them.
Q: For this film, you interviewed a few guests; who are they? And why are their testimonies important?
We interviewed a variety of people including survivors of near-death experiences, scientists, neurologists, a cardiologist, surgeons, as well as researchers who've been studying NDEs for over 30 years. Some of the more well-known people we've included are:
Don Piper, author of New York Times Bestselling book "90 Minutes in Heaven". He was killed in a car crash on his way home in 1989. Pronounced dead, was prayed over and came back to life.
Mary Neal, author of New York Times Bestselling Book "To Heaven and Back". She's a board-certified orthopaedic spine surgeon who became pinned under a waterfall while kayaking for almost 30 minutes and drowned, had a near-death experience, and shares her remarkable story.
Dale Black, author of "Flight to Heaven". A former airline instructor and commercial pilot who became the only survivor of an airplane crash July 18, 1969. He had an experience of going to Heaven and back.
Dr. Jeffrey Long is a radiation oncologist, who in 1998 started Near-Death Experience Research Foundation. It's grown to become the world's largest collection of near-death reports, which are collected from around the world in multiple languages and studied globally. He wrote the New York Times Bestselling book "Evidence for the Afterlife".
Dr. Michael Sabom is a cardiologist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He conducted one of the earliest scientific studies on near-death accounts starting in the late 60's, early 70's. He's the author of "Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation" and later "Light & Death: One Doctor's Fascinating Account of Near Death Experiences", which is based on his work founding The Atlanta Study, the first comprehensive investigation of it's kind into near-death experiences.
John Burke is the author of New York Times Bestselling "Imagine Heaven". He's been studying near-death experiences for over 30 years, and compares 100 NDE accounts in his book with what Scripture says about Heaven. While not every detail of each near-death experience correlates with Scripture, Burke shows how commonly the experienced shared by thousands of survivors point to a picture of Heaven as promised in the Bible.
Dr. Raymond Moody is a Psychiatrist, Philosopher, who coined the term "near-death experience" in his book "Life After Life", which became a New York Times Bestseller. He's researched near-death experiences for over 50 years across the globe.
Dr. Ajmal Zemmar is a physician-scientist specializing in neuroscience and functional neurosurgery. His study "Enhanced Interplay of Neuronal Coherence and Coupling in the Dying Human Brain", published in 2022 documented the first ever EEG recording of the dying human brain. He speaks about this one-of-a-kind study and what this could mean about the process of dying in the human brain.
Howard Storm, author of "My Descent Into Death". A former professor at Northern Kentucky University. In 1985, while on a trip in Paris, he lost consciousness after a perforation in his stomach. He had a hellish near-death experience.
Q: How has the making of this film impacted your faith?
I grew up in a Christian home and went to church all my life, but after devastating loss, if I'm being honest, I struggled with the reality of Heaven. After learning about these accounts and the overwhelming evidence that accompanies them, it's restored my faith. It's given me confidence in my faith in Christ. It's given me a renewed sense of hope and it's caused me to pray and read the Bible way more intentionally.
I learned through tragic circumstances that life is fragile. We can not run from death. And as a Christ follower, we don't need to be afraid of death.
It's also shown me that I truly can't even begin to comprehend how big God is.
Q: Why should our readers watch this film?
After Death will be playing exclusively in 2,200 theaters across Canada and USA starting October 27th, 2023, distributed by Angel Studios (The Chosen).
This movie was made for both believers and skeptics and will be a profound cinematic journey of discovery through evidence and testimony. This is the result of over 6 years of work with an incredibly talented team - it was truly made to be experienced together in theaters.
We want everyone to have the opportunity to experience it, so Angel Studios has opened up a Pay it Forward program, where you can pay it forward for others to see the film. And if you're unable to afford a ticket, you can claim a free ticket from those who've paid it forward. You can do either at https://www.angel.com/lifeafter.