Sundance Features

January 24, 2007

Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, God Provides

"This massive event was happening so close to us, but what we were seeing did not ring true with us."

A scene from the Gulf Coast in God Provides

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

For the record, can you tell me what God Provides is about?

God Provides is a portrait of unrelated people who are temporarily bound together in the immediate aftermath of a major natural disaster. The film is meant to present candid and perhaps unexpected responses to catastrophe, and is bound together by these people’s heightened sense of faith in God.

How and when did you decide to travel to the Gulf Coast to work on this project, and how did you determine which specific area(s) to shoot in?

It was an impulsive decision on our part to travel down south. We had been seeing a considerable amount of footage from Hurricane Katrina on various news channels, yet somehow we felt almost nothing from these images. This massive event was happening so close to us, but what we were seeing did not ring true with us. So we felt as if we might be able to find some aspects of people’s suffering, or lack of suffering which were underrepresented.

So we got in the car, filled up extra tanks of gas in these plastic containers, because gas was very expensive then, and drove down. We ended up in Mississippi because we had heard of all the major damage along the Gulf Coast and we also weren’t permitted to enter New Orleans at that point. Everything was barricaded.

Where did you find your subjects?

In parking lots, at hot dog stands, the side of the highway, in relief shelters, churches. The ravaged landscape, which is also an important subject in the film, was obviously all around us. We kind of assumed that certain political perspectives, and other people’s experiences, like the racial tension, were best left in the hands of others. So through our own intuitive process we decided what we felt capable of showing -- and that ended up being a look at the duality of religious sentiment and a kind of everyday emptiness.

How did you cultivate a relationship with them prior to filming, and how does God Provides reflect that? It seems like despite their candor and at least one unequivocal moral stand, they're presented somewhat anonymously -- almost as shadows of varying dimensions and definitions.

In a sense, it almost doesn’t matter who these people are. In a way, its kind of irrelevant. That’s why we don’t put title cards up over people’s images. It’s a way for us to acknowledge that you can never really get to know someone through a film, you can only form impressions of them -- in our case these are our impressions that we present to an audience. Another way of looking at it is that despite the realism presented in the film, we are using the subjects as unsuspecting actors in a screenplay that we are writing as we go. The subjects are pieces of our own personal tapestry. They are concrete, and specific, but then they kind of evaporate -- they are there for a moment and then they are not.

Was Sundance '07 your first time in Park City? And how did it go?

We really enjoyed Sundance. As first time filmmakers, we had never seen any of our work on a screen with an actual audience before, so it was kind of a special moment for us. And we’ve been pretty exhausted since coming home because after Sundance we flew straight to the Rotterdam Film Festival, where our other film, The Delaware Project, was having its premiere. What we especially enjoyed about the festival(s) was this sense of being connected to a larger filmmaking community, because until now we had been sort of swimming around in our own bath water.

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