Interview: Peter Spencer Director of Return to the Hiding Place

This coming Sunday, June 7 at 6:30 my school, Aletheia Christian School, and Living Waters Lutheran Church are hosting a free showing of the film Return to the Hiding Place. I was able to set up an email interview with the film's director, Peter Spencer. I am incredibly grateful to his staff and Mr. Spencer himself, who gave quite a thought provoking interview.

Return to the Hiding Place was originally the memoir of Hans Poley who was the first person taken into hiding in the ten Boom house during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, and acts as a parallel to Corrie ten Boom's modern classic The Hiding Place. Poley, along with many others, became an active member in the Dutch underground, a group who attempted by almost any means necessary to subvert the work and ideology of the Nazis in their country. The book and film stands as a challenge to good-hearted people of faith who might one day have to rise up and face evil head on (especially pacifist types like myself). Spencer addresses these very issues in his interview.

Please visit our event page for more information on the showing of the film and if you plan to attend the premier go to our cinema page so you can register online to show you are coming. Much more information on the film can be found at the official website: http://www.hide-movie.com/

Peter Spencer is an accomplished writer, director, producer, and speaker. His previous works include Heroes of the Faith and the art film "Holy Art." 
Post Consumer Reports: What is the background on the film’s development? How did you get attached to direct it and where did the funding come from? I am always fascinated with the stories of how independent and Christian films get made.

Peter Spencer: I have worked on this screenplay for decades through interviewing Hans and doing immeasurable amounts of research on his story and others. I have a background in art and marketing and directing, so as the writer and executive producer I knew I attached myself to direct. I wanted the film told on the screen as closely to what Hans had told me his experiences were.

The funding was the painful process of asking strangers for money. You might have seen me on Broadway in New York on the corner with a cup. My passion for this project came from the conviction that it is a necessary story and working tirelessly to seek out others who could catch site of the vision. This film had to be made, and raising the funds is the toughest part of filmmaking.

PCR: How did Hans Poley become your mentor and what his influence on your life?

PS: Hans and I met after he attended a speech I made. He was intrigued by the title—"Abortion: America's Auschwitz"—and afterward introduced himself to me and we became friends. He eventually told me of his work in the resistance. At the time I was extremely active working to defend pre-born life. Hans and I were kindred spirits in recognizing that revolution and resistance is necessary for altering culture. He told me that every generation has its litmus test—his was "what will we do for the Jews?" Mine at the time was—and still is—"what are we doing to protect the unborn?" I believe the current generation must answer the pressing question of "what are we doing for our brothers and sisters being systematically persecuted and slaughtered in the middle east?"

PCR: You seem to have assembled an international cast. How did you gather all those people and where exactly did filming take place? If you didn’t actually go to the Netherlands you did a good job of convincing us otherwise.

PS: We had a great casting agent for the film. I had wanted John Rhys-Davies (the Indiana Jones films and The Lord of the Rings films) for years before we had raised the funds—he genuinely had come to mind during prayer and had been on my prayer wall for over 2 years.

As to the other great actors, they auditioned via Skype and recorded auditions. I believe we auditioned close to 800 actors.

We actually shot much of the movie in the Netherlands, incredibly at the original Hiding Place where Corrie and her teenage army rescued the 880 Jews.

PCR: How was it working with John Rhys-Davies? What kind of presence does he bring to his work?

PS: He was brilliant to work with. We all grew to love him, and he was kind to any new actors on the set. Though a couple were a little nervous to work with such great talent, he generously put everyone on the set at ease. Since it was my first full length feature film, I was grateful to have someone of his caliber take direction with humility and dignity. His ideas added immeasurably to the project.

PCR: As a narrative Return to the Hiding Place seems to have a broader scope than Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Her story was more personal whereas Poley’s story shows a lot of what happened in the Dutch Resistance, which Ten Boom only hinted at. What parts of the Occupation and the Resistance is Poley’s story bringing to light that most people know nothing about?

PS: I think the most exciting aspect of the back-story is the fact that this "Call to Arms" was taken up by teenagers—young people who had not been trained in guerrilla warfare, espionage, or clandestine operations, yet who rose to the challenge against the most horrifying army of evil—the Isis of their day. Until now, the story of the actual resistance that served the cause Corrie had taken up to rescue Jews is revealed, and the complex, emotional tearing is that young people devoted to obeying God and their government went through in the decision-making process of "obeying God rather than man"—killing, stealing, rebelling were traits which had been deeply embedded in their childhoods as the opposite of Christian behavior. Yet, like Rahab the Harlot and the midwives who saved Moses, what set them apart was the purpose of saving God's people, defending the innocent, and thus a just cause.

PCR: Return to the Hiding Place the book seems to currently be out of print, though you can buy it used off of amazon.com. Do you know anything about the status of the book and if there are plans to re-publish it?

PS: I am publishing the total works of the resistance that are only touched on in Hans' book. Due to the numerous hours he and I spent in recorded interviews and conversations late into the night about the exploits of the "Rolls-Royce" (the student resistance group that Piet and Hans worked in), we will tell the untold stories as well as have photos from behind the scenes and stories of miracles that happened in the making of this film. 

PCR: One of the key relationships in the film is Poley’s friendship to Eusie (played by John Rhys Davies), a devoutly Jewish man who is also hiding in the Ten Boom’s home. How did Poley’s relationship differ with Eusie than say Corrie’s or Father’s? And did their religious debates ever go anywhere or did they always cordially “agree to disagree” even to the end?

PS: Hans was a brilliant young man (a trained physicist) and love to discuss the power of the Gospel in the lives of the faithful as well as its affect on shaping a civilization unlike any other impoverished culture under Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. Eusie was full of questions and remained close friends with Hans the rest of his life, but as to whether he ever came to an understanding of the Messiah as Hans had hoped will only be known on the other side of the veil.

PCR: As a director, what did you bring to this film in terms of your faith, in terms of your love of history, and in terms of creating a work of art? How did all three of these intersect?

PS: Great question. I have been a missionary for decades and love teaching the word of God. Choosing ground work or ministry or film is akin to delivery systems in medicine—some medicine is delivered by way of shots, some orally, some nasal sprays, etc. Different delivery systems but same effect.

[Poley's account] is both a true story and a stunning metaphor and parable of our world today. We live under the threat of horrifying anti-semitism and Christophobia, with the purging of our kingdom-saints spreading unabated and our people unprotected by governments. To me, history is about lessons, and unfortunately our current culture has forgotten the lessons of Corrie and the teenage army. We must "resist" as they did and, as the book of James says, the enemy will flee. But we must be counted before it is too late.

That is why I was passionate to do a work of art that—like Michelangelo's work—would draw people to look upon the work of God and the love of Christ to man. I prayed to make more than a movie with working parts—I prayed to make a masterpiece of excellence that even the world would respect. God deserves the best. I believe my team gave the best God had given them and "hit the mark." Now, I pray that lives are changed for decades to come.

PCR: A quote from the film: “Rebelllion to tyrants is obedience to God.” As a story about Christian and Jewish people figuring out how to subvert the evils of the Nazi empire, you leave us with some real moral dilemmas—that is, there are no easy answers. What conclusions did you come to yourself about the limits Christians should go to in stopping evil? Where do we cross the line into committing evil ourselves? And did the real-life people in Return to the Hiding Place ever feel like they went too far and had regrets in the decades after the war or did they feel justified in their actions?

PS: Of course, this could be a two-hour dissertation on evil and the great difference between killing and murder, but simply said, "it is better to obey God than man" is a call to action. To answer more pointedly to the moral dilemma you mentioned, the point where resistance beyond spiritual fighting must take place is in the defense and protection of innocent life. But spiritual fighting is our first call and precedes the physical action that may eventually be required of us. We have accepted as a nation the need for the hundreds of thousands of godly men and women in the military who have been—since the revolution— stopping evils such as naziism for the good of righteous nations to practice their worship of God freely, but as civilians, how are we showing appreciation for this freedom? Do we spend time on ourselves or on the actual worship of God?

As a Christian culture, we have not taken up the spiritual gifts and arms to fight the enemy in the battlefield of the minds and hearts of the lost. Had we spent time on spreading the revolution of Christ to the lost as much as we spend our energies cheering football and other entertainments and luxuries, we would have seen the world changed by now. The beginning of the true revolution begins on our knees, bowed before the King with our hearts willing to give our life to save another.

PCR: Finally, I plan to have a discussion and question and answer session after we show the film. What issues from the film would you hope to hear people dialoguing about? What kinds of questions would you want them going away and asking and discussing?

PS: I hope people begin asking what percent they are a part of. Hans told me that leading up to the war and during the horrors of it, 5% of the Dutch joined the Nazi party, 5% resisted the Nazis, and the other 90% waited to see who won. I want this film to shake our hearts into asking "what percent am I a part of? Where do I stand?" I want believers and non-believers to wake up to the evils growing today, including the new rise of anti-semitism. I want the Church to care more about their brothers and sisters being beheaded across the ocean every day and the spilling of their blood than the color of the pews or order of the service. I want to see a generation rise up to defend the faith so powerfully and effectively they save their brothers and sisters and God's people. As a believer, there is no neutral. We are either for God's people or against them. I want people to ask what they can do now that their hearts are stirred—or ask themselves if they're content just to wait.

Official trailer for Return to the Hiding Place

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