The Film, From Multiple Award-Winning Producers Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn, Uncovers the Gripping Story Beyond the Headlines of the Death of Young American Missionary John Chau, who Attempted to Contact the Remote Indigenous Sentinelese in 2018.
U.S. Distributor Picturehouse Will Debut THE MISSION in Theaters on Oct. 13.
Altitude Will Release in U.K. and Irish Cinemas on Nov. 17 and Is Handling International Sales.
TELLURIDE, Colo.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–National Geographic Documentary Films announced today, in partnership with distributors Picturehouse and Altitude, that its forthcoming film, THE MISSION, will debut in U.S. theaters on Oct. 13 and in the U.K. and Ireland on Nov. 17. The accompanying trailer and key art reflect the strange events at the heart of the global news story in the new film from EmmyⓇ Award-winning directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss (“Boys State”), and Lightbox’s Academy AwardⓇ-winning producer Simon Chinn (“Man on Wire,” “Searching for Sugar Man”), Emmy Award-winning producer Jonathan Chinn (“LA 92,” “Tina”) and Emmy Award-nominated producer Will Cohen (“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie”).
THE MISSION will have its world premiere at the 50th edition of the Telluride Film Festival on Thursday, Aug. 31. In the lead-up to its theatrical debut, the film will also screen at numerous festivals around the world, including the BFI London Film Festival.
The film will open in select North American theaters beginning Friday, Oct. 13, in New York and Toronto, with a continued rollout to theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Vancouver, Portland and other cities across the country through November. It will debut in U.K. and Irish theaters on Friday, Nov. 17. Altitude Film Sales will handle international rights to the film and will launch sales at the Toronto International Film Festival. Visit films.nationalgeographic.com for more details.
In 2018, a shocking event made headlines around the world: A young American missionary, John Chau, was killed by arrows while attempting to contact one of the world’s most isolated Indigenous peoples on remote North Sentinel Island. From Emmy-winning directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss (“Boys State”), and OscarⓇ-winning producer Simon Chinn and Emmy-winning producer Jonathan Chinn of Lightbox, comes National Geographic Documentary Films’ THE MISSION, which uncovers the gripping story beyond the headlines. Through exclusive interviews and with unprecedented access to Chau’s secret plans, personal diaries and video archives, THE MISSION examines the mythology of exploration that inspired him, the evangelical community that supported his quest, and reveals his own father’s heartbreak as Chau’s youthful thirst for adventure became a fatal obsession.
“Looking closely at John Chau’s death, we found a complicated, layered story, equal parts adventure and tragedy. At its core, it’s an intimate drama, an emotional dialogue between father and son. But it also raises questions for all of us about the great historical forces that have shaped our world, about the implications of faith and the legacy of the so-called Age of Discovery. It’s a story worthy of the big screen, and one that echoes the epic tales that inspired John and finally doomed him,” said directors McBaine and Moss.
“THE MISSION contains multitudes, thanks to Amanda and Jesse’s artful, empathic and nuanced storytelling. It is a gripping murder mystery that examines the moral and ethical implications of John Chau’s story to probe deeply into the complicated history of colonialism and global exploration,” said Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president of Documentary Films for National Geographic. “We are thrilled to collaborate once again with our friends at Lightbox on this captivating and provocative film.”
Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn, co-founders of Lightbox, added: “We were both moved and troubled by the news of John Chau’s untimely death in the Andaman Islands in 2018 and our partners at National Geographic immediately saw the potential that we saw in his story for a feature documentary. The film that Jesse and Amanda have made has used that story as a springboard for a thought-provoking and multilayered narrative that also asks difficult questions about our fraught relationship with Indigenous people, and we are hugely excited to be returning to Telluride to premiere the film.”
McBaine and Moss worked patiently for years to gain the cooperation of John’s friends, teachers and advisors. Several are featured in the film, including Levi Davis, who formed an “accountability group” with John when they were fellow students at Vancouver Christian High School; Adam Goodheart, historian; and Dan Everett, professor of linguistics and a former missionary who shares his firsthand experiences of the enduring myths of colonial evangelism.
John’s father, Patrick Chau, is given voice via excerpts from written statements reckoning with John’s faith, his death and Patrick’s own anguished failures as a parent to prevent John from undertaking the “foolhardy mission.” Meanwhile, John’s personal diary, including a 13-page entry of his last days, social media and blog posts, letters he shared with supporters, and a secret 26-page “master plan” he wrote outlining his understanding of the Sentinelese and plans for converting them, serve as a window into his innermost thoughts right up until his final days.
To visualize John’s master plan, which outlined in detail his strategy to reach the island and convert the Sentinelese, filmmakers drew on the same art form that inspired him — comics. Hand-drawn animation brings to life key moments in the story, in the vein of “Tintin” and “Through Gates of Splendor,” a 1970s Christian comic book about the five young American missionaries killed by the Huaorani people in Ecuador in 1956.
THE MISSION is co-produced by Vanessa Tovell and Carolyn Sperry Lewis, edited by Aaron Wickenden (ACE), and executive produced by Doug Bock Clark with animation from Jason Carpenter and Holly Stone and music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. Thorsten Thielow serves as director of photography. Carolyn Bernstein serves as executive producer for National Geographic Documentary Films.
National Geographic Documentary Films previously released the Academy Award, BAFTA and seven-time Emmy Award-winning film “Free Solo” and the Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning film “The Cave.” In 2022, they released Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated “Fire of Love,” two-time Sundance Award-winner “The Territory,” critically acclaimed “Retrograde” as well as the short film “The Flagmakers,” all of which were shortlisted for a 2023 Academy Award. In 2021, they released BAFTA nominees “The Rescue” and “Becoming Cousteau,” and three-time Emmy Award winner “The First Wave.” Other critically acclaimed films under the banner include “Fauci”; “Torn”; Emmy-nominated “We Feed People” and “Rebuilding Paradise” from Ron Howard; Sundance Audience Award winners “Science Fair” and “Sea of Shadows”; Emmy winners “LA 92” and “Jane,” both of which were included in the top 15 documentaries considered for an Academy Award in 2017; and Dupont Award winner “Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS.”
About National Geographic Documentary Films
National Geographic Documentary Films, part of a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium, feature documentaries that cover timely, provocative and globally relevant stories from the very best documentary filmmakers. Our award-winning and critically acclaimed films reach 300 million people worldwide in 180 countries and 33 languages across the global National Geographic channels and direct-to-consumer platforms Disney+ and Hulu. Recent films include Oscar®- and BAFTA nominated Fire of Love, three-time Emmy-award winner The First Wave, two-time Sundance-award winner The Territory, BAFTA nominees The Rescue and Becoming Cousteau, and Oscar®- and BAFTA winner Free Solo. For more information visit films.nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Headquartered in London and Los Angeles, Lightbox is a multi-award winning media company creating high quality non-fiction content for an array of distribution platforms. It was founded by two-time Academy Award®-winning producer Simon Chinn (Man on Wire, Searching for Sugar Man, Whitney) and Emmy® Award-winning producer Jonathan Chinn (LA 92, American High, Whitney). Lightbox’s recent productions include: Donyale Luna: Supermodel for HBO Documentary Films, Max and which premiered at the American Black Film Festival 2023; Spector for Showtime and Sky documentary Films, Donyale Luna for The Princess, directed by Academy Award®-nominated Ed Perkins, for theatrical release, HBO Documentary Films and Sky Documentaries, which premiered at Sundance 2021; Emmy Award®-nominated TINA, directed by Academy Award®-winners TJ Lindsay and Daniel Martin, for HBO Documentary Films and HBO Max, Sky Documentaries and theatrical release; The company is currently in production on projects for a range of US, UK and international broadcasters, platforms and for theatrical release.
Picturehouse is a Los Angeles-based film marketing and distribution company led by CEO Bob Berney and COO Jeanne R. Berney. The company acquires, markets and distributes global content across all platforms. Originally formed in 2005 as a joint venture between Time Warner’s HBO Films and New Line Cinema, the Picturehouse brand has a long history of storied excellence. For more information visit picturehouse.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Altitude Media Group is the independent UK based studio launched in 2012 by chairman Will Clarke and joint-CEO Andy Mayson. The group comprises of Altitude Film Production, Altitude Film Sales with Managing Director Mike Runagall, Altitude Film Distribution with Managing Director Lia Devlin, Altitude Factual and Altitude Television. Since 2020, US based investment group 30WEST have held a significant minority stake in the group.
Altitude Film Sales’ TIFF slate includes IN RESTLESS DREAMS, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s definitive documentary about music legend, Paul Simon; TIFF Platform title, THE KING TIDE, directed by Christian Sparkes and starring Frances Fisher; original horror-comedy, HELL OF A SUMMER, written, directed by and starring Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk which premieres at TIFF Midnight Madness; National Geographic feature documentary, THE MISSION from award-winning directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss; survival thriller, OUT COME THE WOLVES from director Adam MacDonald; IN THE SHADOWS, the inspirational true story of Ramla Ali, the first British female Muslim boxing champion, starring Letitia Wright; PLEASE DON’T FEED THE CHILDREN, the debut feature film from Destry Allyn Spielberg; high concept survival thriller, NO WAY UP; NETFLIX UK hit, T.I.M. starring Georgina Campbell; Gonzalo López-Gallego’s thriller AMERICAN STAR starring Ian McShane; Barnaby Thompson’s feature doc, MAD ABOUT THE BOY chronicling the life of English playwright, Noël Coward; true-crime docu-drama, SPEEDWAY about the notorious 40-year-old unsolved ‘Burger Chef’ murders; James Erskine’s genre-busting doc, THE FLIGHT OF BRYAN; sci-fi thriller, THE OCCUPANT starring Ella Balinska and MADE IN ENGLAND, the documentary on iconic British filmmaking duo Powell & Pressburger narrated by Martin Scorsese and directed by David Hinton.
Since launching in 2013 Altitude Film Distribution have proudly supported talented filmmakers and given their films the dynamic and bold releases they deserve. To date Altitude have championed over 170 films, ranging from the Academy Award and BAFTA-winners, MOONLIGHT, ROCKS, MINARI, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, AMY, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO through to critically acclaimed THE FLORIDA PROJECT, DIEGO MARADONA, LADY MACBETH, BEAST, THE RIDER, LES MISÉRABLES, WHITNEY and more.
Altitude’s recent releases include 2023’s most talked about horror TALK TO ME, Georgia Oakley’s acclaimed and powerful BIFA-winning and BAFTA nominated debut BLUE JEAN, BAFTA and Academy Award-nominee and Venice Golden Lion winner ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED from Academy Award-winning director Laura Poitras, Palme D’Or winner TITANE from writer and director Julia Ducournau and Brian Welsh’s BEATS. In 2020 Altitude partnered with the WWF on the global event release of DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, which became the widest ever released documentary in the UK and Ireland.
Forthcoming releases include THE MISSION, Sundance Film Festival hit RADICAL starring Eugenio Derbez, MADE IN ENGLAND and the 50th anniversary, 4k remaster of Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS.