Despite the Gods
is a gem of a documentary that is part of the Sydney Film Festival’s program
. Directed by Penny Vozniak, the meta-movie follows fellow filmmaker Jennifer Lynch’s journey as she laboured through the making of her 2010 Bollywood debut Hisss
. The mythological fantasy horror was fraught with drama from the get go, which only escalated as the 40-year-old daughter of the infamous surrealist David Lynch went head to head with her Indian crew in post-production. The documentary tells the story of what went wrong with Hisss
, whether if it was Lynch’s lack of knowledge about filmmaking in India, or indeed if the crew, audiences and critics had unreasonably high expectations of her because she came from American cinema royalty. Whatever did go wrong, there’s no doubt that Despite the Gods
will shed some new light on Hisss
and Jennifer Lynch. We went straight to the source to find some answers of our own.
A lot of movies have extra DVDs that show the behind-the-scenes of a film’s making, but you had a whole documentary made on your process with Hisss
. What was the process like?
I really did let Penny Vozniak do her thing. I knew she had a great cinematic voice and I trusted her completely. This is not to say I didn’t still worry about looking like an idiot, or feeling fat or making mistakes… but ultimately I thought, ‘I agreed to be seen. So this is me… being seen.’ I knew I would learn a lot from the experience, and the footage helped me keep my sanity. Penny was a wonderful confessional at times.
What was your relationship with Penny like during the process, did she present a bit of a safe haven, being a fellow director?
She absolutely presented a safe haven, and she was a pro at being unseen. That was a gift. Before I knew it, the camera just disappeared. For better or for worse, I forgot I was being watched much of the time.
Did you feel at times that having a documentary shot of your process with Hisss
was like a magician showing his secrets?
That’s a flattering question. I don’t know that I have secrets. I think I worried that people wouldn’t celebrate my mistakes the way I try to; that I would be judged harshly for being myself. I celebrate my mistakes, hopefully in that celebration I learn a lesson and never repeat it. I like humans. I like how fragile and yet resilient we are. Secret or no secret, I just dove in and let Penny go for it.
feels like a true Bollywood action with its outrageous mix of action, dancing and comedy. What differentiates Bollywood action flicks from Hollywood action? An inherent ‘desi’ factor perhaps? (note: ‘desi’ is Hindi slang for the culture and just about anything that comes from the subcontinent).
I’m going to go ahead and admit I don’t know what ‘desi’ means. I think of Ricky Ricardo [of I Love Lucy
] and hit a wall. I can say that there are certainly flavours to action in different parts of the world as far as cinema goes, but I really try to create action based on the story and the characters, rather than by Bollywood or Hollywood. I am closest to the story, so when I am uncertain, or looking for my way, I sink into it for advice.
Did you bring any Hollywood-specific influences or processes to the making of Hisss
India works differently than I had expected, although ultimately it is the same beautiful process. I brought the skill I had and tried to rework myself into their process. The country knows what it is doing; I just didn’t know how they got there. I think Despite The Gods
is a pretty clear demonstration of how different and yet similar Bollywood and Hollywood are.
As someone from Hollywood and as David Lynch’s daughter, did you find that that background brought a certain kind of baggage in India?
I think that if it mattered, I was too busy to notice. If one’s baggage is going to be an issue for people it will be, no matter where you are in the world.
What was your driving force, during all those month of struggling through the chaos, making the film?
The driving force for me was the story; to see it through. I was so inspired by India. It is a magical country with even more magical people. I couldn’t give up. I was too in love with where I was and what I was doing. I think Penny was a real aid in rough moments. She was always nearby and I could say, “I feel like I’m losing my mind” or “I’m scared”. Bravery is admitting I am afraid, and continuing forward. I learn more that way and the fear has less of a hold on me.
How did you feel when you were finally finished with Hisss
? Was the end result worth the experiences you had to go through to finish it?
I think Despite the Gods
is worth all everyone went through to make Hisss
. Sadly, I’ll never know what ultimately became of the film once the producers decided I shouldn’t finish it. A dear friend of mine said to me the other day after seeing Despite the Gods, “Jen, I think you went to India to make this documentary… not to make Hisss”. I think she is right.
As a filmmaker, does it ever matter to you how critics receive a film?
For me, it always matters how a film is received. It kills me. I wish it didn’t matter, as it can be both joyous and torturous. But that is how it is for me. Each film becomes like a child of mine. You send it out into the schoolyard… and there is as great a chance that it will be bullied, as there is it will be cherished.
was only your third film, and we certainly hope you make more, but what did you learn about yourself personally and as a filmmaker during the process?
Happily I can say I have made another film since, due for release this year, and I am directing television and another feature this summer and fall. As for what I learned from the process, both professionally and as a filmmaker… fall down seven times, stand up eight. And really, no one cares how much you weigh.
Despite The Gods screened at the Sydney Film Festival. You can also catch Everguide's interview with festival director Nashen Moodley as well as check out other film festivals happening around winter.