Oh My God?
In the gorgeously photographed new documentary “Oh My God?” filmmaker Peter Rodger travels to 23 countries over two and a half years, accumulating 200 hours of footage that took 13 months to edit, seeking an answer to one basic question, “What is God?” His stops include India, Bali, Rome, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Israel and the U.K. He interviews Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members of indigenous cultures in tribal Africa, Australia and the United States. His subjects run the gamut from extremists to moderates to atheists.
Rodger traveled with a crew consisting of only one other person and shot with two high definition cameras. Rodger is the film’s writer, director, producer and cinematographer. He also does duty in front of the camera as guide and narrator. “I wanted to get as far away from preconceived ideas as I could,” Rodger explains. “My goal was to find out what this entity that goes by the name of God means to people.”
Opinions, interpretations and questions fly kaleidoscopically: “Did God create man or did man create God?” A Hurricane Katrina survivor acknowledges that God does everything for a reason but adds, “I’m just wondering why he did this.” “Is the God that your club worships the same as the God another club worships?” “Why do religions fight?” A Muslim worries about a backlash against Muslims if there is another 9/11. An atheist admits he prays when ever he is on a plane that is taking off.
“Oh My God?” is a thoughtful and thought provoking journey, at points funny and surreal, that turns up a variety of answers and maybe asks just as many questions. Since he traveled light Rodger was able to cast a wider and more interesting net in terms of interviews. Eschewing the typical “professional” religious leaders he was, for example, able to talk to Muslim militants in hidden parts of Kashmir and Jammu in Northern India. Rodger also includes “man on the street” interviews, conversations with school children and yes, a film is not complete without them, celebrity interviews. Ringo Starr, Hugh Jackman, Seal and others weigh in on God related issues and prove to be very articulate. Talk about spirituality!
I found “Oh My God?” to be a more intriguing, colorful and in depth exploration of religion than Bill Maher’s similarly themed documentary “Religulous” (2008). While both films show how religions can be used to adversely influence their followers, Maher’s point of view was smug and down on the idea of religion as a whole, a concept recycled and enlarged upon from his HBO show. In contrast “Oh My God?” is more objective, respectful, and visually spectacular. It has also been beautifully edited by Rodger and Editor John Hoyt. Its 200 hours of footage have been whittled down to a very manageable 98 minutes. The film moves at a nice, brisk pace while managing to cover a lot of territory geographically, spiritually and intellectually.
“Oh My God?” opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on November 13. In New York it will be at the Landmark Sunshine Theatre.
“Oh My God?” director Peter Rodger, 2009,
Mitropoulos Films, 98 minutes