Maja Jacob was understandably giddy when her feature film directorial debut In God I Trust was invited to screen at the venerable Beijing International Film Festival earlier this year.
In God I Trust was filmed on weekends over the course of a year and fuelled by volunteers and passion and chutzpah. For a Vancouver indie film to be invited to screen in Beijing — where the festival treats visiting filmmakers like rock stars, and the movies screen to sold-out crowds — was a big deal.
It’s arguably an even bigger deal to be disinvited because of political strife between two global superpowers — which is precisely what happened to Jacob and In God I Trust in March.
China has been irritated with Canada ever since Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei, at YVR in December 2018.
According to Jacob, In God I Trust was invited and disinvited by the Beijing International Film Festival in a span of 48 hours, and the festival told her that it was because she was from Canada.
“I was really devastated because this film isn’t political,” says Jacob, who has since moved to Toronto to further her directing career. “Even the festival said that they loved the film and they were sad that they couldn’t show it and it had nothing to do with what was in the film. It was strictly because of political reasons. I was really sad because we had the opportunity to screen the film to such a huge audience over there. It was a big blow.”
In God I Trust didn’t make it to China, but it has travelled far and wide nonetheless since premiering at the Whistler Film Festival in December 2018. It’s screened in Omaha and New York, and will finally screen for the hometown crowd next week at the Rio.
While the film isn’t overtly political, it is very much representative of the divides that exist in (but are not exclusive to) the United States.
In God I Trust follows a handful of characters from different walks of life whose fates are intertwined, for better or for worse: Ben (Marc Senior), an African American man whose life is imploding; white supremacist Tyler (Steven Roberts, who won a UBCP/ACTRA Award for his work in this film last month); atheist academic Michael (John Cassini); Barbara (Jenn MacLean-Angus), a well-to-do mother with an unshakeable faith in God; and her daughter, Mya (Melissa Roxburgh), whose beliefs and actions prove to be a great disappointment to her parents.
“I love how after every screening we’ve done at film festivals, people come up to me to tell me how they relate to someone in the story,” says Jacob. “I had someone at the Omaha Film Festival tell me that they really appreciated how we tackled that concept of going to a dinner and respecting everybody’s point of view.”
Jacob developed the script for In God I Trust with Paul St-Amand in the lead-up to the 2016 American election. The film touches on religion, gun violence, immigration, populism and white supremacy: topics that have only grown more relevant during the Trump presidency.
“I feel like things are starting to happen in the world that already happened in our film,” says Jacob. “Things will pop up [in the news] and I’ll say, ‘That’s in our film — what we said and what we showed in our film is happening now.’ Two years later, the film is still incredibly relevant.”
That said, Jacob wants people to know that In God I Trust isn’t political. It’s not liberal propaganda. It’s not even a strictly American story. “This kind of stuff is happening all around the world and we just happened to place it in Idaho,” says Jacob. It’s about the inner lives of people who exist at different points along the political spectrum, and it seeks to humanize them — yes, even a character like Tyler, the white supremacist.
“Tyler is absolutely a dick in the film, but you also see how and why he grew up that way,” says Jacob. “Yes, we’re shaped by our environment and the people we grow up with, but we also have the capacity to learn and grow.”
Grammy Award-winning artist Bilal makes his acting debut as a musician who crosses paths with Senior’s Ben. The Dec. 19 screening will feature the world premiere of the music video for Enough, the song that Bilal performs in the movie.
In God I Trust screens at the Rio Theatre Dec. 19. Tickets at RioTheatre.ca.