INTERVIEW ‘Oh My God!’ Director Talks with ‘The Tech’
Peter Rodger Discusses Inspiration, Lessons Learned Filming the Documentary
Peter Rodger is an award-winning British director whose unique photo-imagery craftsmanship makes him one of the most sought-after artists in the British and American advertisement industry. Oh My God! is the three year, life-changing non-fiction film that explored peoples’ perspectives about God which debuted on November 13.
The Tech: On the Oh My God! website you wrote in the director’s statement that you wanted to travel around the world to 23 countries and ask what people thought about God because you were fed up with people fighting in the name of God. But what is the one definitive thing that made you finally decide to go on your quest?
Peter Roger: I was going up a ski lift in Utah in 2006. Something happens to you when you’re in a beautiful space. I was on a ski lift and I was thinking about wanting to reconnect with the world, and I thought what is one thing that I can do to help me to do that? I didn’t want to go back to advertising. I thought that if I ask people on a base level about what they thought about God and not just political leaders, then I can get something concrete. Some people may call this an epiphany but I don’t think this is the right word to describe it. The idea to shoot this documentary was born out of frustration and born out of desire to travel.
TT: How did your idea transform into a documentary? Which came first, the desire to shoot a documentary or the desire to find out what people thought about God?
PR: The desire of filming a documentary first; I wanted to make stories with my camera and capture the world with a photographic image. I was the son of a famous photojournalist George Rodger who was a founder of Magnum Photos. I was motivated by a visual desire to use what I was taught through my heritage. I was taught at a very young age to use light cameras to capture the world; what I was taught was “how to learn how to see.” You have to organically experience something to really see it. This ideology of anthropological study through camera lens came from that.
TT: What was your goal in going around the world to ask that question? What do you hope to accomplish by producing this documentary?
PR: My thought was to educate. My frustration comes from the result of what I believe is people using the name of God to manipulate the ignorant. What I want to do is to explore the entity that is God from an objective point of view. The motivation of it was to educate so that we can understand others’ points of view and realize the similarities that humans have with each other. Most of the time, the issue of religion is easily bigoted. The ideas that argue “my God is better than your God” are politicized statements. Some people may not have had the opportunity to make up their own minds. Out of learning what people think God is, perhaps we can learn to have an actual argument or discussion about it. For the most part, we are all the same — we all have two arms, two legs, and a kidney, you know — but we like to push others away even though we’re similar. We can learn something about our neighbors and find that we are much more united than we are divided. Hopefully this documentary will lead to some sort of tolerance.
TT: When you were filming, were you afraid that the documentary will be sort of hit or miss? Were you worried that some people are just too intolerant to appreciate the film?
PR: The answer is very simple. There’s a subplot that’s going on here. The film is ultimately about faith. Faith is the one thing that can kill fear. Yet it’s so divided. So I was constantly fearful I was doing something that people are too self-righteous to approach. My hope and faith tells me I shouldn’t worry and that I should let go. I should just focus on my journey. The reality is, though, I don’t know where the journey ends. However, faith tells me that if I’m doing something good and something that’s strong, I shouldn’t have to worry about people not accepting it. Here is something that describes the embodiment of what I wanted to achieve: Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California who was in the film, organized people from the mosque to attend the film premiere on Saturday night. They bought tickets and invited me to meet with a group of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community to discuss the film. We all talked about our similarities; it was the most wonderful evening that I’ve experienced. Their concept of faith is so simple. They realized that their Prophets are all preaching the same things. The film bringing together these people to discuss the topic of God peacefully is a great reward for me personally.
TT: Can you tell me a little about the people that you interviewed and something that surprised you about them?
PR: What I did was I went to different countries and I found anchor points, like people I knew I would get at a certain time. Like if I was going to India I would go see person X or person Y. I would let the conversation of that person take me to the next person. At end of film when, I was in a children’s cancer ward. The most surprising and most rewarding event for me was when I asked a young child about facing death. His answer was so selfless and strong and emotional.
TT: Compare how you viewed God before and after the film; did your perception change? How?
PR: Before, I really didn’t think about it much, but after I thought about it a lot. I was brought up as a follower of the Anglican Church of England. But I diverged from religion. After filming the documentary, I found the topic of God to be less complicated to the nth degree. Basically, you are born, you live, and you die. What is important is what we do as individuals during the time. There’s a wonderful bond within humanity. Some people say that God is the energy that binds us together. We, as individuals, have much more power to change the world to be a better place than just being sheep. If each of us does one kind act to another each day, the world would be a better place. I learned that responsibility lies with the individual and not with a group.
TT: In the film, you brought up that maybe man created God instead of the other way around. What do you think about that question? Have any comments?
PR: We both created each other. God is a word that describes something that describes we can’t actually comprehend. God is self perpetuating. People try to compartmentalize God and try to divide this word up to small regions. God makes us stick together and push away from each other. God is the very essence of life, the reason that we’re here. But it’s also a word that people use to describe their version of reality. Man created God and God created man at the same time because we’re all Gods in a sense.
TT: After watching the film, I thought that the overall notion of what God is is almost a consensus: love, goodness, hope, etc. If that’s the case, how can there be so much suffering?
PR: On my journey, I met Zen Master Kanju Tanaka from Kyoto, Japan; he denies existence because he believes we’re already in paradise. What we have around us is paradisiacal and it’s our responsibility to understand it. Those who are struggling have to change their perception; what they must not do is get really angry. They must shift their minds and look at life in a different perceptive. You control how happy you are.
TT: That’s a mind boggling concept to grasp.
PR: If you can turn around the very thing that makes you depressed, you will be happy. Isn’t that what the balance of life is? You can not be happy without being sad; you can’t be happy all the time.
TT: On your journey have you met any who would refuse to answer your questions? Or have you met any who is unable to answer your questions?
PR: Neither. They all had their own perception of God. Once you get your camera on, they all have something to say.
TT: Okay, final question; in no more than two sentences, what is God?
PR: [Laughter] God is my inner self and God is everyone else’s inner self at the same time, and God is the very truth and the battery that makes everything exist. God is also the reservoir that holds every single thought that’s ever thought by anybody ever — anima mundi — and maybe also a reservoir for a thought that hasn’t yet occurred.