DESPITE THE GODS
AUSTRALIA 85 MIN
Welcome to India, home of the world’s largest movie industry, where mere mortal film stars are worshiped with the same fervour as timeless Indian Gods; and the new buzzword ‘co-production’ looms on the lips of Indian financiers keen to form a Bollywood-Hollywood alliance. Hollywood’s prodigal daughter, Jennifer Lynch, is well known for making bold, if not ill-fated, choices in her filmmaking career. But nothing could prepare her for the unmapped territory of Bollywood-Hollywood movie making, where chaos is the process and filmmaking doubles as a crash course in acceptance and self-realization. Lynch travels to India to direct Hisss, a tale about the vengeful snake Goddess Nagin. But things go wrong very quickly. Surrounded by a truly wonderful team of Indian crew, her twelve-year-old daughter, and a cast of Bollywood stars, Lynch does her best to stay sane and guide the production through a minefield of disasters. With uncensored candor, Lynch shares the heartbreaking and at times hilarious experience of being a director at the helm of a sinking ship.
Penny directs, writes and shoots her own documentary films and music videos. Her first film, Despite the Gods, premiered at Hot Docs, Chicago Int and Sitges, won “Best Documentary” at LA Femme Fest and “Best Doco Directror” at Downtown Fest of LA and "Best Comedy" at Atlanta Doc Fest.
For the past 3 years she has collaborated with pop artist Appleonia, creating dream-themed music videos, being awarded “Best Music Video” for their video ‘Precious’. She is currently directing and co-producing Ordinary Wonderlands, a feature documentary filmed over 8 years. This stranger-than-fiction film explores the bittersweet reality of living as a superhero in the real world.
- Hot Docs, Canada 2012
- EIDF, South Korea 2012
- Split Film Festival, Croatia 2012
- Raindance Film Festival, UK 2012
- Sitges Film Festival, Spain 2012
- Sydney Film Festival, Australia 2012
- Stockholm Film Festival, Sweden 2012
- Chicago International Film Festival, USA 2013
- Byron Bay International Film Festival, Australia 2013
- Imagine - Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival, The Netherlands 2013
- Mumbai IFF for Documentary, Short and Animation Films, India 2014
- DC Independent Film Festival, USA 2014
- Minneapolis & St Paul IFF, USA 2014
This documentary came into my life unexpectedly. In 2008 I was asked to baby-sit Jennifer Lynch’s daughter, Sydney, when I stopped in Mumbai for a few days to visit my dear friend, Govind Menon (a Bollywood director/producer).
This documentary came into my life unexpectedly. In 2008 I was asked to baby-sit Jennifer Lynch’s daughter, Sydney, when I stopped in Mumbai for a few days to visit my dear friend, Govind Menon (a Bollywood director/producer). Pre-production for Hisss was just underway and already I could see the tragicomedy of the situation unfolding and the tension between producer and director bubbling under the surface. After only a few days I knew that there was a great story to be told here, (more complex than I first realised) and the rapport between Jennifer and myself was instant and natural. I was granted permission to make this documentary and stayed for the entire 8 months of production.
I feel that Jennifer is an exceptional woman, and she is a documentary filmmaker’s dream protagonist: natural, unaffected by the presence of the camera, yet she has that balance of strength and vulnerability that enables her to share even the most intimate moments of her journey without a trace of self-consciousness. The trust and total compliance of cast and crew enabled me to capture an intimate observational account of the cross-cultural misunderstandings, relationships, and the dashed hopes and dreams behind the scenes that was the Hisss experience. Jennifer actually wanted me there in the hardest moments, almost as a witness to the madness she felt she was spiralling into in India – both personally and professionally.
In a nutshell, this film would not have been possible without Jennifer. Her journey is the backbone of the film and she is the brave but flawed warrior-woman heroine. This “movie about a movie-maker” genre of documentary film works best when the lead characters share their inner journey with the audience. American Movie, Burden of Dreams and Hearts of Darkness are good examples of this genre. Jennifer is one of these rare characters. Her willingness to explore herself through the trials of this Hollywood-Bollywood production is the spine of the narrative. It’s a heroine’s journey in every way, within and without. I love human journey stories. I wanted to make a film
that wasn’t about ‘how to make a movie’, or a glittery peek behind the scenes of Bollywood. I sought to document the personal connections these subjects have to each other, the world around them, and to Hisss itself; art definitely mirrors life in this documentary.
It’s a film about challenging ourselves to rise above difficulties with grace and humour, bravely attempting something new…even when it’s tagged as doomed from the start. These ill-fated journeys are the most tempting ones; because they are unmapped territory, they promise adventure, high stakes and the greatest bounty - personal growth.
It is important to re-iterate that this is not a typical behind the scenes documentary, or a ‘DVD extras’ for Hisss. It is a story about the realities of being a single, working-mother, cross-cultural misunderstandings, the burden of being Hollywood’s prodigal daughter, and hopes and dreams won and lost. It’s about failures and compromises, the fear of not living up to our own expectations of ourselves, and not fulfilling the dreams that we believe define who we are.
Cinema in Cinema 2015