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ÉCU Film Festival | 2019
Maja Zdanowski





Redemption, violence and faith define a young black man, a reckless white nationalist and a pair of travelling vacationers during a random encounter within Northern Idaho.


Hi Maja thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going? 

The last few weeks have been pretty awesome for my film In God I Trust. In the span of 3 weeks, I will have gone to a number of film festivals across the US including the upcoming ÉCU - The European Independent Film Festival. This has been quite the journey to get to this point so I am very grateful to have the opportunity to screen my film to all types of audiences around the world. I hope to attend many more film festivals in the future and my dream would be theatrical distribution.

How does it feel to have your debut feature In God I Trust part of this years ÉCU Film Festival? 


Screening my film to a Paris audience is extremely exciting for me because it will be the first time people watch my film with subtitles. It will be interesting to see their take on the subject matter since it touches on pretty heavy themes. The best part of screening the film at the ÉCU Film Festival is that my mother and stepfather will be in attendance and it will be their first time watching the film! They live just outside of Paris. 

With this being your European Premiere are there any nerves ahead of the screening? 


We are always nervous during screenings with a live audience, but it’s also a lot of fun! The film highlights very relatable subject matters like race, religion and perhaps even revenge. It will be very interesting to see how a European audience will react to the characters, especially since the film is based in the USA.

The reaction to your has been incredible, has it surprised you to have gotten the response you've gotten for In God I Trust? 


I just got back from the Omaha Film Festival in Nebraska USA and I was pleasantly surprised with the Q&A session. We had a group of film students in the screening who had travelled from Kansas USA to attend the festival. During the Q&A session, one student said the film inspired him to the point that he knew what he wanted to do with his life, he wanted to pursue his passion as an actor. Several female attendees came up to me after the screening and expressed how much I inspired them as a female director. This touched my heart to know that I had some type of impact in their lives even if it was just for an afternoon in the theatre watching my film.


Can you tell me a little bit about In God I Trust, how did this film come about? 


The film follows three characters and three stories that all come together during a random event in a small town in Northern Idaho. Audiences have compared our movie to "Crash" which is a huge compliment! As mentioned earlier It tackles heavy and sometimes electrically charged themes such as religion, race and tribalism, which of course is prevalent all over the world. The story itself was inspired by people my writing/producing partner Paul St. Amand and I know or have been acquainted with over the past several years.  So the characters and the story come from a very important place for us. 

"...having a solid relationship with your DP is extremely important..."

What was the inspiration behind your screenplay? 


You wouldn't know this when you first meet me but I'm actually a landed immigrant from Poland and also lived in a refugee camp back when I was a baby. My parents fled Poland in the early 1980s fleeing a communist takeover of the country. We lived in a refugee camp in Austria. When I was two we immigrated to Johannesburg South Africa where I spent most of my childhood. Eventually, we immigrated to Canada when I was nine years old. I feel like I can write a movie based on my life experiences! Each of these characters relates to several aspects of my life, from immigration, tragic death and faith. I can relate to many parts of each character. We all go through defining moments and events in our life that impact us forever. These events shape you as a person with how you cope with future decisions that you make in your life. I wanted to make a movie that I could incorporate all my life experiences. 

What was the most challenging part of bringing In God I Trust to life? 


As an indie filmmaker, you have to do whatever it takes to make a movie, especially with limited financing. We made this movie the hard way by self-financing it. We literally shot the film over a year and a half on weekends by raising funds for each shoot. It was insanity but with our dedication and the commitment from our cast and crew, we were able to finish a feature film. Additionally, since we shot the film over a year and a half on weekends, continuity was quite the challenge. Our first shoot occurred the same weekend as the worst snowstorm to hit Vancouver Canada's lower mainland, a rare occurrence in this area of the country. So you can imagine the challenges we faced with having to match no snow shots, to three feet of deep snow! Scheduling crew and actors was another challenge since all our cast and crew worked regularly on big-budget shows during the week. 

As well as writing & directing In God I Trust you also produced and edited the film, how did you manage all your roles in this film? 


This is a great question! I actually took on much more roles than listed in your question. As an indie filmmaker you have to do whatever it takes to make a movie and in the end, this entire process is much more rewarding. I had a good support system from my producing partners Paul St. Amand and Jesse Norsworthy. Together we literally tackled everything from scheduling, craft service, catering, car wrangling, props, set decoration you name it. Luckily for the last fifteen years, my background in the film has been in post-production so editing was actually the easiest part of the entire process. On my next film I hope to focus all my energy on directing, but who knows I might get greedy and still edit the film!


What was the most valuable lesson you've taken from making this film? 


The most valuable lesson I learnt about making this film is to never give up. I had so many moments during this process where I didn't think we could finish the film. Our producing team kept knocking on doors and in the end, we achieved a huge task of completing a feature-length film. Another valuable lesson I learnt is that having a solid relationship with your DP is extremely important, they are literally your lifeline on set. Corey MacGregor our DP was dedicated, professional and extremely talented. I hope to work with him on another project. 

Have you always been interested in filmmaking? 


I remember my dad buying a hi8 camcorder back in the '90s shortly after I immigrated to Canada. It was a culture shock for me moving to a new country so as a kid it felt like a good escape from my daily insecurities in school. I also thought it was the coolest thing ever! I spent hours alone in my bedroom filming myself singing pop songs, pretending I was a news anchor and choreographing dance routines. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a filmmaker. In high school, I enrolled in every type of drama and art class and eventually went to the University of Windsor to study Video Production. I stuck with it and now I finished directing my first feature film.

What was the first film you were part of? 


My first experience on a movie set was in the film Scary Movie 5. I was a set production assistant. My job was to clean up garbage, guard doors so people wouldn't walk into a shot and set up furniture for lunches. It was not a glamorous job but you have to start somewhere.

What made you want to make a feature film rather than a short for your debut film? I've grown up with a shoot for the stars mentality. 


To be honest the thought of shooting a short film first never crossed my mind. Shooting short films is a hard thing to do, it's very difficult to make a compelling short film with a limited amount of screen time. I applaud short film filmmakers who create movies that impact an audience the same way as a feature film would. I just happened to co-write a feature film. 


What has been the best piece of advice you've been given? 


The best piece of advice I have ever gotten was from my father. Growing up he would always tell me to never take NO for an answer, there's always another way. I took that advice and applied it to my daily life and to my professional life. Thank you, dad.

Now you can be reflective do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker? 


The advice I would give to a fellow filmmaker is to just go out and shoot something. If you have a passion for it, you can make anything happen. But my biggest piece of advice: Never give up!

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?  


My hope after watching the film is that it sparks a dialogue with the viewers. Which part of the movie did they relate to and did it speak to them in some way? The best types of films are the ones where the film sticks with you for days after. If I can accomplish this with In God I Trust then I have won the jackpot!

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