‘Despite the Gods’ is a fascinating and unique insight into the what happened when Jennifer Lynch was brought to India to direct Bollywood movie ‘Hisss’. What results is essential viewing for any filmmaker, film fan and anyone with an interest in true documentary filmmaking that puts modern day reality television to shame and avoids the typical ‘”talking heads” route.
With a fly on the wall approach that initially was intended as behind the scenes shots which soon evolves into a human observation piece that shows the trials and tribulations of a dedicated and hardworking woman who juggles motherhood, directing, filmmaking in a foreign land and other challenges is both enlightening and entertaining.
Through ‘Despite the Gods’ we get to see so much more than the filmmaking process of an industry that operates differently to its western counterpart. We get to see the emotional journey of Jennifer Lynch, someone whose lineage stems from cinema royalty, was derided for not meeting the expectations of others and finds catharsis through getting a chance to redeem herself for the box office disaster that haunted her early on. As someone who was never given a fair shot at finding her own voice, we get a glimpse into the insecurities that emerged following the response to Boxing Helena, how her life has moved on but career still carries the stigma of her debut venture and parallels with her father’s work. One compelling scene shows Jennifer confess to the camera how she does not want what happened to her father (David Lynch) with Dune to happen to her. She sees the comparisons as coincidence given this is her third film and that was his. She talks about how he distanced himself from the project and took his name off of it and that it affected him so much he didn’t talk to anyone for over a year. At this point she breaks down remembering the emotional fallout and how her family had to cope with the consequences. She asserts she does not want this to happen with Hisss yet we are later told her name is removed from the final film as the producers rejected her cut of the movie.
It is not often we get the opportunity to see someone hold a true mirror to ourselves and see all that we have achieved as opposed to what the world deems us to have failed at, and Jennifer Lynch can take great pride at this documented period of her life which shows her working hardest “despite the gods”.
Touching moments include the interactions between mother and daughter especially early on when Jennifer makes a comment about her weight and her daughter Sydney comforts her, reassuring her that films are made by what’s in the head and heart, not by the mass you carry.
A director trying to control a runaway train of a film, maintain some form of order on set and deal with situations she’s never been accustomed to while raising her young daughter and exorcising the demons of her past all form the incredible journey we are shown during the film.
Penny Vozniak has been granted unprecedented access during a crucial time in Jennifer Lynch’s life and the result is a spellbinding story that depicts accurately the making of a film with unlimited variables and how in spite of everything, Jennifer holds it together and gets through the experience delivering a film, bonding more with her daughter and inspiring those around her, including the viewers of this film who will be left with an indelible desire to see more of her and her work.
Penny Vozniak is one to watch as is her subject, Jennifer Lynch, both of whom create lightning in a bottle with ‘Despite the Gods’, a film which will remain a testament to their talent and needs to be archived as a piece of compelling filmmaking with real heart.