Race, religion, and love in the age of MAGA
In God I Trust was written in 2015, back when the concept of President Trump seemed like a delusion concocted by Fox News pundits.
But there’s something about the feature film – which premieres this week at the 2018 Whistler Film Festival – that feels like it has its finger on the ailing but still beating heart of North American culture in 2018.
It peers into white supremacy; it delves into religion and class constructs; it confronts gun violence and racial prejudice; it offers insight into people who seem intractably rooted on their own side of the great divide.
In short, In God I Trust holds a mirror up to the ugliness of the MAGA era, and the humanity and resilience that – somehow, despite the chaos and the noise – manage to survive.
“We wanted to show why people are the way they are,” says Vancouver director Maja Zdanowski, who developed the In God I Trust script with Paul St-Amand. “We try to go into the psyche of, ‘Why do they do the things they do?’ We want people to watch the film, not take anyone’s side, and be moved.”
In God I Trust follows a handful of characters from different walks of life whose fates are intertwined, for better or for worse: Ben (Marc Senior), an African American man whose life is imploding; white supremacist Tyler (Steven Roberts); Atheist academic Michael (John Cassini); Barbara (Jenn MacLean-Angus), a well-to-do mother with an unshakeable faith in God; her daughter, Mya (Melissa Roxburgh), whose beliefs and actions prove to be a great disappointment to her parents.
Grammy Award winning artist Bilal makes his acting debut as a musician who crosses paths with Ben.
Many of the characters are “created around people that we met down south,” according to Zdanowski.
Cast and crew shot In God I Trust on weekends over a year and a half, beginning on what would go down in the history books as one of the coldest and snowiest days of 2016. “The weather was insane, and then trying to match that weather to the rest of the movie was a total nightmare,” recalls Zdanowski, who typically works on the editorial side of the film and television industry. “I had to be creative with transitions and time lapses. There were some visual effects where we had to remove the snow. Usually in Vancouver they add snow in the movies, but not in our case.”
There were other nightmares, too, like trying to get the cast together during a crazy-busy time in the local screen scene (they lost Roxburgh to Manifest for six months), figuring out how to adapt when the owner of their main character’s car transformed it into a 1970s cop car, and – well, facial hair. “We had a lot of fake beards going on,” chuckles Zdanowski. “That was a bit of a nightmare.”
But something special happened whenever they were able to roll camera that made the nightmares almost inconsequential – something to do with indie-filmmaking magic, and the commitment of the actors to bringing authenticity to their complicated, sometimes unlikeable, characters.
This was particularly evident during a key scene when Roberts – playing white supremacist Tyler – improvised a line of dialogue that rocked Zdanowski to her core.
“After he did it, I was like, ‘Do it again; this makes me sick and I think it’s going to make the audience uncomfortable and I think that’s what we need to show, because this stuff actually happens,’” says Zdanowski.
In God I Trust is one of a handful of locally produced feature films screening at the 2018 Whistler Film Festival, which runs today until December 2. Other highlights include Never Be Done: The Richard Glen Lett Story, a documentary about the downfall and recovery of Vancouver comedian Richard Lett, and Bella Ciao!, Carolyn Combs’ poignant character-driven drama set on Commercial Drive. Schedule and tickets at www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.