Arts Desk

D.C. Independent Film Festival: Despite the Gods, Reviewed

despitethegods

Most behind-the-scenes documentaries about the making of films make the process look utterly hellish. Practical problems—stemming from things like special effects, the shooting schedule, or an unexpected rainstorm—can undermine the director's vision. Actors' egos are fragile. Despite the Gods, the documentary by filmmaker Penny Vozniak, shows how these problems can be exacerbated when an American shoots in an unfamiliar country.

Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David, spends eights months in India shooting Hisss, a horror film loosely based on the snake goddess Nagin. Lynch, a fiercely independent type who seems to mask her insecurity with self-deprecating humor, watches as her choice of location presents one challenge after another. She cannot shoot in an alley because it's time for prayer; she yells "Action!", only to be thwarted by a downpour of rain. She's deeply aware of what this film means for her career—her father was reeling for years after the colossal failure of Dune—so she pushes through one obstacle after another.

Vozniak captures a lot of intimate moments, including Lynch's breakdowns and lighter moments with her crew. Still, the most intriguing scenes are the ones with Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat, who plays the snake god in Hisss. She has a strange relationship with Lynch: She wants to be a professional, even when she's wearing a disturbing snake costume, and she has sympathy for both the Indians and Americans. The best scenes unfold when Sherawat freaks out, struggles with her sexuality, or serves as an reluctant ambassador for her country.

The experience of Hisss overwhelms Lynch. Her only confidant is her daughter Sydney, but even her presence creates problems. By the end of shooting, Lynch tosses her hands in the air and hands directorial duties to her producer. Despite the Gods is more about the folly of shooting in a country with high poverty and limited infrastructure; it's a look at how ambition can clash with grim realities.

As a film production gets a larger cast and crew, more and more things can go wrong, which is why Lynch went over budget and the final cut was ultimately taken away from her. It's no surprise that Chained, her low-budget horror follow-up, has a more modest cast and a severely truncated production schedule.

The film shows 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at the U.S. Naval Heritage Center.

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