God’s Country interview with Shaye Ogbonna and Julian Higgins

God's Country film, image courtesy Sundance Institute
God's Country film, image courtesy Sundance Institute /

I continue my 2022 Sundance Film Festival coverage with an interview for the film God’s Country. I had the pleasure of sitting down with co-writer Shaye Ogbonna and co-writer/director Julian Higgins to talk about their film.

God’s Country follows Sandra Guidry (Thandiwe Newton), a professor who confronts two hunters she catches trespassing on her property. Newton is an actress that always delivers in any role that she plays and seeing her as the star of this one excited me. She didn’t disappoint at all. Her performance wasn’t the flashiest, but it was so deeply profound that you emotionally attached yourself to every moment.

God’s Country is a slow and steady western set in this beautiful country-like setting that is so unsettling and haunting it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Hidden Remote had the pleasure of chatting with co-writer Shaye Ogbonna and co-writer/director, Julian Higgins. We talked about the film, the casting of Thandiwe Newton, and the epic ending.

Check out the video version of the interview, below:

God’s Country interview with co-writer Shaye Ogbonna and co-writer/director, Julian Higgins

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Hidden Remote: What inspired God’s Country?

Shaye Ogbonna: The project is an adaptation of a short story called The Winter Light that Julian has a history with that. The idea changed the character from an older white man to a 40-something black woman. My missions statement is to center people marginalized and people that don’t normally get centered in genre storytelling, or in westerns, like a woman, a black woman, or woman of color, because I am a big fan of westerns. So the idea of putting someone I can identify within that role and seeing how that changes the film’s chemistry inspired and sparked the story for me.

Julian Higgins: The spark of it was the understanding that if that change is made, all of the story’s subtext changes and there are all kinds of things we can talk about that aren’t present if it’s three white guys talking to each other. So that’s why we wanted to do it, and we wanted to talk about things that we were feeling galvanized to engage with.

HR: Julian, what made you decide you wanted to direct this project?

Higgins: I realized in 7th grade that this was what I wanted to do with my life. So it has been a 23 year-long wait to get a feature film out there. I have been doing shorts for as long as I can remember. Shaye and I both went to the AFI Institute at different times. What keeps me fascinated and engaged with the medium is that every scene is its own puzzle. I love the puzzle aspect. Here is what we want to do. These are the pieces we have. How do we use these pieces to say what we are trying to say? That applies throughout the whole process. We worked on it for two years before we showed it to anybody. The whole process is an endless series of puzzles and that’s what I find so fascinating.

HR: Shaye, Thandiwe Newton is incredible in this, what made you guys say she was your Sandra?

Ogbonna: When you meet her, you instantly see that she embodies a lot of the qualities that the characters has. She is also looking to explore, to challenge herself. A lot of the things we were thinking about when we were crafting and writing the character, she had verbally spoken to these things in interviews before we met her—wanting to play characters that make mistakes that aren’t perfect. Thandiwe, who she is, a big star, wanting to challenge herself and wanting to get into the muck. She was right from the moment I met her and started talking to her.

Higgins: The character is a tricky role, without any question. For example, Sandra is a college professor, and you have to believe she is someone’s favorite teacher. But then she has these other sides of her, she is so tough, resilient and brave and she does things in the movie that the audience members wouldn’t do. She is so committed to this character. It needed a brave and tenacious performance. It was clear from the moment we talked to her that she was perfect for it. Now it’s impossible to think that anyone else could do it.

You can check out the video version of the interview here.

Next. January movies: Release schedule for January 2022 movies (and where to watch). dark