The Cinematography Podcast Sundance 2022 Special: God’s Country
God’s Country, starring Thandiwe Newton, is about Sandra, a Black woman college professor living alone who is dealing with the recent loss of her mother and the subtle and not-so-subtle racism and sexism in a cold, remote Western town. Two hunters boldly start trespassing on her property, and when she asks them to stop, it begins a tense and escalating clash of uncompromising aggression by both parties.
Director Julian Higgins and cinematographer Andrew Wheeler had previously made God’s Country as a short in 2014, based on the short story Winter Light by James Lee Burke. When Julian began thinking about turning the story into a feature, he connected with writer and fellow AFI graduate Shaye Ogbonna to reimagine the story with a Black woman rather than a white man as the central character. As co-writers, Shaye and Julian had long conversations about what they valued and cared about in their own lives. They wanted to take a big bite out of contemporary themes of racism and sexism and still tell a contained thriller story. Together, they wrote and reworked the script for months, knowing they wanted to show everything on the screen with little dialog. They wanted the audience to feel the tension escalate as the movie builds to what feels like its inevitable conclusion.
Envisioning this inevitability and seeing everything happen rather than telling through dialog meant knowing exactly where to place the camera. Cinematographer Andrew Wheeler was involved right from the beginning, which helped everyone maintain the same vision. Julian listened to Andrew’s instincts and suggestions, so the whole process was very collaborative. Andrew also lives in Montana, where the film was shot, so he is intimately familiar with how to photograph those surroundings. He expressed Sandra’s extreme aloneness in long shots against the mountains and snow, or gazing out from her house onto the vastness of the landscape. Andrew felt that he was able to put his time and best work on the screen.
God’s Country premiered at the Sundance 2022 Film Festival and is seeking sales and distribution.
See a clip from God’s Country
Find director Julian Higgins
Find writer Shaye Ogbonna
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