UPDATE: The Spanish Brothers animated short has been released! Check it out below.
In this article, I’m excited to be interviewing Steven R. Martins, the founding director of the Cántaro Institute, author of several books and a good friend of mine. Steven is also the founding pastor of Sevilla Chapel, a multi-ethnic bilingual church plant in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada where he serves with his wife and two boys. The Cántaro Institute is raising funds to launch an exciting new project, an animated series called “The Spanish Brothers” and I’m really looking forward to having Steven share a little more on that with you in this article.
Steven, thanks for agreeing to this written interview.
Could you please tell us a little bit about the Cántaro Institute and why it exists?
Absolutely. The Cántaro Institute is a confessional evangelical organization, based in Lincoln, Ontario, that has a two-pronged mission: (i) to recover the riches of Spanish Protestantism for the renewal and edification of the contemporary church; and (ii) to advance the comprehensive Christian philosophy of life for the religious reformation of the Western and Ibero-American world. (Ibero-American refers to the region in the Americas comprising countries or territories where Spanish or Portuguese are the predominant languages.)
What are some of the specific needs you see the Cántaro Institute addressing in the Latin American and Spanish-speaking communities and how does this new project fit into that?
This goes a bit into why the Cántaro Institute exists. It exists because there is a lack of awareness as to our Christian, Protestant heritage. And when I say “our”, I mean the founding directors of the Institute who were born in Latin America. I’m the exception because I’m a second generation Canadian, but my parents were Iberoamerican immigrants nonetheless. Due to the void of knowledge and understanding as to how the Spanish-speaking church got to where it is today - in terms of its confessional creed and its Protestant distinctives - this has made the Spanish-speaking church susceptible to religious syncretism. There are many factors that have contributed to this susceptibility, but our rootlessness has a lot to do with it.
Some might interject, “but wouldn’t this be solved if we were rooted in the Word of God?” Yes, absolutely, but the principle of Sola Scriptura comes from the Reformation movement, and the Iberoamerican church missed out on a lot of that because of the Inquisition’s efforts in the sixteenth century. Many of the European-based churches, for example, can recount a bit of their ecclesiastical history, referring back perhaps to the Westminster Confession, the Canons of Dordt, etc. However, the majority of Spanish-speaking churches have nothing to refer to. Not because there isn’t a historic Spanish confession (there is, but that is a conversation for another day), but because most of our Protestant history as Spanish-speakers has been forgotten and neglected.
We want to recover that Protestant heritage, we want to recover that which has been neglected, particularly, the story of the Spanish Reformation in the sixteenth century, which is a beautiful story of God’s grace. This new project, The Spanish Brothers, is aimed towards aiding that initiative through the means of an engaging medium.
What is The Spanish Brothers and why did you choose to pursue producing an animated series on it?
The Spanish Brothers is a Victorian, Christian classic written by Deborah Alcock which tells the story of two Spanish brothers in sixteenth century Spain who, in their search for their lost father and the famed El Dorado, discover the Protestant Reformation unfolding in secret in Seville. The story of the two brothers is fictitious, but every event such as the auto-da-fé (executions of the heretics) and the persons mentioned (i.e., Casiodoro de Reina, Cipriano de Valera, etc.) are documented as real history. (The Reina-Valera translation of the Bible is one of the most popular translations of the Bible dating back to 1602) The Spanish Brothers is like stepping into a time machine and experiencing the events of the Spanish Reformation for yourself. It is educational, and spiritually edifying because it reminds us of the power and truth of the Gospel.
The reason we are attempting to produce an animated series of this classic is because of its masterful way of presenting these historical facts as personable experiences. Reading a history book is most certainly helpful, but not everyone will pick one up, and to engage with these historical persons helps us to relate better to them and to grapple with what occurred. I admit, I was moved to tears more than once reading The Spanish Brothers, and we thought, what better way to reach the church, from as young as children to as old as grandparents, than with a family-friendly, educational, and spiritually edifying animated series?
What is the vision for this animated series?
The series would be adapting Alcock’s book. So, the perspective will often change between the two brothers just as the book does. From the outset, there’s a marked difference between the kind of men these two brothers are. One is more cut out for armed service, the other for service in the church. At first, we see this contrast between them and it makes you wonder what will become of their relationship, especially as one embraces the Reformation movement. The short film pilot, which is the first step for a project like this, will cover that ground a bit. This manner of storytelling will really allow us to explore how the Gospel can appeal to anyone, and how we shouldn’t have stereotypes as to who is more likely to believe than not.
In terms of the visual art style, we have a soft spot for Dreamworks’ Animation. What comes to mind is The Prince of Egypt, and Joseph: King of Dreams. However, because of the cultural setting, we really resonated with the art style of The Road to El Dorado, which is also the story of two brothers, Tulio and Miguel. Our primary target audience is Christian families, though we also believe that non-Christians would certainly benefit as well from wholesome family content! It will be produced in English first and then produced in Spanish as well to make it accessible to a wide audience.
There are several details that we are still figuring out. We will remain in control of scripting to ensure that we faithfully adapt the story of The Spanish Brothers, but we will have the scripts edited for quality control by the animation studio. We are also intent on scoring this series well, because what is a good story without good music and sound effects to immerse you into the story? From beginning to end, we want an excellent work of art.
Why does the world need to know this story?
This is a story that is barely told. There are numerous books on Martin Luther, John Calvin, amongst others, but what do we know about sixteenth century Spain? What do we know about Juliano, for example, who died as a martyr for smuggling in Spanish New Testament Bibles?
This story lays out for us the beautiful story of God’s grace, the loving devotion of God’s people under persecution, the bold valour of the martyrs, and how the Spanish Reina-Valera Bible came to be. In terms of story-telling, if we were to refer to the Protestant Reformation movement in Europe as a macroverse, the Reformation in Spain is its own little microverse that has yet to be explored. The story of The Spanish Brothers lit under my feet a passionate zeal to rekindle that reformational spirit, to seek to reform every area of my life to the teaching of God’s Word, and to pursue the on-going reformation of God’s church, Semper Reformanda. We hope that this animated series might be used by God to inspire that in many more lives.
What are some of the plans for production and distribution?
Our first step is to produce an animated short film (5-10 minutes) which would provide a sneak peek of what the series would consist of, and be used as a pitch for potential studios to pick up and produce. To do this right, we will be teaming up with Juan M. Urbina, animation director and producer of Netflix’s Legend Quest, Tunka, and Don Quixote in Space, once we are able to secure our funding.
We are living in an interesting time as it is with crowdfunded projects gaining traction. We have, for example, Angel Studios’ The Chosen and Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga. Our intention is to submit the short pilot film of The Spanish Brothers for funding consideration, in order that through a crowdfunded venture we could realize this animated series for worldwide distribution. It is exciting, just talking about all of this, but if we want to see this become a reality, we need to get the short pilot film funded. That’s the first step.
What are your dreams and goals for this project?
The short term goal is to raise $10,000 through our Kickstarter Campaign in order to produce the animated short film The Spanish Brothers. At the time of writing this, we have 24 days left to meet that funding goal, and we still have a ways to go. This animated short, of course, will be made available for all to see once produced, but our distal goal is to see this animated short become a whole animated series. Given the breadth of Alcock’s book, it could realistically be split into multiple seasons.
How can people get involved and what can they do to help?
We need as much help as we can get to (i) spread the word about this project and its Kickstarter Campaign, and (ii) to raise the funds we need in order to take that first step towards making this envisioned project a reality for the benefit of the church at large, here and in Latin America.
Will you help us?
Thanks so much for taking the time to read and find out a little more about this exciting new project. It is so encouraging to see more creative projects advancing solid Biblical theology and Reformation history. I know many of us often wish there was more solid Christian content out there, so let’s support and pray for God to use these efforts for the glory of His Name and furthering of His Kingdom!
If you’d like to support The Cántaro Institute in making the dream of The Spanish Brothers animated series a reality, you can:
DONATE to their Kickstarter Fund
PRAY for this project
SHARE with your family and friends via social media
CONTACT the Cantaro Institute if you're a creative who wants to lend your skills to this project!
Thanks once again to Steven R. Martins and the Cantaro Institute for sharing this project through this written interview. Until next time... SDG!