Most people today wouldn’t associate Christians with hippies, but the two have more in common historically than you might think. The new film Jesus Revolution explores how these cultures overlap, how thousands of hippies came to know the Lord—becoming “Jesus People”—and how many of them went on to write popular Christian music.

Without sugarcoating the facts, director Jon Erwin maintains that the gospel can bloom in the unlikeliest of places. In the 1960s and ’70s, when the hippie movement was in full force, hundreds of thousands of people went to Southern California to become “Jesus People.” Time magazine called it a “Jesus Revolution”—a miracle hiding in plain sight.

Erwin has made a career out of the road to Christ. His films portray God working in mysterious ways and in tumultuous places such as an abortion clinic (October Baby) or an equality march (Woodland). He thrives off the tension between fraught situations and characters searching for faith. He usually works with his brother, Andrew, but this time he partnered with Brent McCorkle as his codirector.

Over the course of seven years, the pair kept this film in the back of their minds as they worked on other projects but finally decided to explore the reasons why this movement spoke to them so clearly. The result is one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen this year, and one of the most unlikely stories I’ve seen, maybe ever. Jesus Revolution seems about as believable as a Pixar flick—but as Erwin reminds us, “This actually happened!”

How did you first come across this story?

I first came across the Time magazine [issue], which came out [five years] after the “Is [God] Dead?” [issue]. I wanted to know what happened in those [five years], what changed in the culture? When I finally read the story—which can’t be found online—I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was a miracle!

How do you make Christian movies accessible for a wider audience?

We’re entertainers first. I want to make you laugh; I want to make you cry. There’s a lot of humor in the movie because of the performances and the whole “squares vs. hippies” thing. But underneath all of that, there’s this universal message about hope. That’s what’s so interesting about it. It’s set in the church; it’s called Jesus Revolution; it’s about a spiritual awakening in America. And yet people who have no affiliation to Christianity love this story.

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When a movie becomes popular in America, all kinds of people want to be part of the conversation. I can’t wait for people who have no connection to Christianity—or to any sort of religious beliefs—to watch Jesus Revolution. One of the great things about movies is that they can show you a point of view you’ve never encountered. Movies are this wonderful, vicarious experience where you live through the eyes of someone else for two hours. There’s an opportunity here for people who don’t understand Christianity to see life through a new lens.

Do you think we’re having a Jesus Revolution right now?

Within the entertainment industry specifically, I think there’s an uprising on the behalf of Christianity. I think there’s a resurgence in belief and a sudden increase in spirituality in America, even though church attendance is going down. You can feel an undercurrent of something going on in the industry, in emerging talent, and in a lot of people who usually stay silent. Titans of the industry are now putting God in their work, and it’s an exciting moment to be in the business.

We’re at the forefront of a return to God. The harder things get and the more we need answers, the more we’re going to get movies about Christianity. I can’t think of another time people hated each other this much. It reminds me of what was going on when this movie takes place, in the 1970s. That’s why I can definitely see another one of these movements happening.

Were there any movies that influenced you?

Absolutely! There’s always movies that inspire what I’m making. Jesus Revolution is almost a love letter to Cameron Crowe, specifically to Almost Famous. I love that movie’s sense of relentless, rebellious optimism. I love Crowe’s spirit, the spirit of those classic coming-of-age stories that grapple with difficult issues but do so in a way that values hope and kindness.

What do you hope to do next?

I have a lot of plans. There’s so much opportunity right now. The more audiences support these movies, the more of these we get to make. I’m really immersed in the story of David and in the stories of flawed people, because I’m one of them. People are craving entertainment that is complex and able to be seen and enjoyed by the whole family. So it’s fun to try and make each movie better and better. That way they can be seen by more and more people.

We’ve only scratched the surface on what faith-based entertainment can be. We’re dreaming big and trying to think of what movies we can do that no one else can do. We’re wondering, How can we make the Bible a cinematic universe? How can we put more emphasis on collaboration? I can’t wait to see where those questions take us.

Asher Luberto is a film critic for L.A. Weekly, The Playlist, The Progressive, and The Village Voice.