Jennifer Lynch’s career has been both blessed and cursed. Directing her first film Boxing Helena at the tender age of 25, she was assailed by bad reviews, feminist critical attacks, and accusations of having gotten ahead through her famous father David. After a 15-year break from filmmaking, she returned with Surveillance in 2008 and has been keeping steadily busy since.
Fantasia has brought Lynch to town to screen the world premiere of her latest film Chained. She’ll also present Despite the Gods, a gripping documentary on her disaster-plagued attempt to direct a film in India with Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat. Penny Vozniak, hired to document the filming for an electronic press kit, ended up chronicling Lynch’s profound personal struggles as the movie got out of her control.
The strange pairing of Lynch and Bollywood came about through old-fashioned film industry networking. “A group of friends and I will get together twice a year for a barbecue and screen the stuff we’re working on. We screened Surveillance and a friend brought a friend, who turned out to be a [Bollywood] producer,” Lynch recalls. “I knew there would be an adventure in this. I like things that scare me. I think there’s a right way to be afraid — it promotes adventure and bravery. So I decided to go with it. Six weeks later, I was in India.”
Despite the Gods depicts a filmmaker clearly out of her depth, struggling to deal with the culture of India’s film industry and establish her authority in a patriarchal society, all the while caring for her 13-year-old daughter Sydney on set. It’s a bracingly honest portrayal in which Lynch airs her fears, anxieties and personal baggage out in the open. “If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it all the way,” says Lynch. “If you’re gonna say yes to someone filming you, you might as well let them film you. Plus, I’m not an actor, so I don’t put on airs. I wasn’t able to pretend anything.”
Lynch admits the doc is hard to watch, but has no regrets. “All self-awareness and vanity and bullshit aside, it was a good lesson,” she concludes. “I do worry about looking insane or over-emotional,” she admits with a laugh. “I don’t cry a lot, but I sure cry a lot in the doc!”
The film, eventually released under the title Hisss, retains Lynch’s name, but not her approval. “After my directors’ cut, [the producers] took the film back to India and re-cut it,” she says. “I have not seen the film they made, because people I care about told me not to. There’s a film out there that I did not make with my name on it.” But Lynch is philosophical about this too. “I was talking to Sherilyn Fenn a few days ago, and she said ‘I don’t think you went to India to make Hisss, I think you went to make this documentary.’” And in spite of all the drama, Lynch says, “I’m grateful to have something that reminds me how much fun I had.”
Chained stars Vincent D’Onofrio as a taxi-driving serial killer who kidnaps a young boy, hoping to raise him to become a killer himself. The serial killer motif is quite well-trod ground at this point, but, says Lynch, “in the same way that it’s challenging to bring something new to a love story, it’s a good challenge.”
Even in the wake of torture porn entering the mainstream, Chained found itself slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating, forcing Lynch to re-cut the film. “The MPAA said it was just too scary. Which was a compliment! I can make funny-funny or over-sexualized violence like anyone else, but the violence in this film is supposed to feel bad,” she says. “I’m very proud of the fact that it’s an uncomfortable, real-feeling movie. I didn’t want to make a joke about a boy being kidnapped by a serial killer. It’s not fucking funny.”
NO DADDY ISSUES
I was hesitant to mention her father during our interview, figuring she might be tired of talking about him, but Lynch ended up bringing him up herself, even lapsing at one point into a brief imitation of his iconic voice. “He’s my dad, but he’s also one of my best buddies,” she says with affection.
I couldn’t help but wonder, while his daughter is busier than ever, when the elder Lynch is going to get back behind the camera. “I’ve been giving him a lot of crap about it,” she declares. “He’s idea-hunting, it’s just a matter of him falling in love with something. As the world spins and he evolves, he’s looking for something new to say. And he can get away with doing that,” she laughs, “because he’s David Lynch!”
Despite the Gods screens tonight, Saturday Aug. 4 at J.A. De Sève Theatre (1400 Maisonneuve W.), 5:20 p.m. with Jennifer Lynch and Penny Vozniak in attendance, and on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 3:25 p.m. at the same venue. Lynch will also be present, with co-writer Damien O’Donnell, at the world premiere of Chained on Sunday, Aug. 5, 7:10 p.m. at Hall Theatre (1455 Maisonneuve W.)