We recently had the chance to speak with Elza Kephart, the writer and director of the film Go into the Wilderness.Go into the Wilderness, shot along Quebec's gorgeous north shore, is a film about the journey of Lilith, the Biblical first woman, from a new point-of-view. The film draws on Gnosticism and displays a lot of Pagan thinking, which is why we were interested to talk more with Elza about the research behind the film.
Our own impressions: We were particularly struck by the scenery in the film. It's a really gorgeous thing to watch, especially if you've never actually been to the northern parts of Quebec. The story is a very feminist, I-don't-need-no-patriarchal-deity-telling-me-what-to-do story, which a number of Pagans will find resonant with their experiences, but the message is one of independence rather than of anger.
Below is our interview with Elza on her film. It contains some spoilers for the film, so if you intend to watch the film, you should probably do so before reading.
More information about Go into the Wilderness: www.gointhewilderness.com.
Run-time: 60 mins.
To rent or download: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/16843
Go into the Wilderness is 2.99$ to rent and 6.99$ to buy.
Selene: When did you first encounter the myth of Lilith? What was your original reaction to it, and did that reaction change given further research?
Elza: I discovered the myth of Lilith in college while researching a paper on the Devil; I had to write about a fascinating historical character, and I chose him. I read a book called “The Devil in legend and literature”, and in it was a chapter on Lilith. I had heard vaguely of Lilith through the Lilith Fair music festival, but I’d never read an entire account of her myth. I was struck by the story; it immediately spoke to me. I could picture her, I felt her character, the arc of her journey. I was totally inspired by this woman who decided to abandon everything she knew and risk being alone in an unfamiliar world, because she chose to live according to her ideals. This very much echoed my own feelings, even at the tender age of 18! However I wasn’t yet at a place in my life where I needed to tell this story, so I put it in the back of my mind for over 10 years.My reaction never changed, even if the other sources on Lilith I encountered presented a different aspect of her character; the immediate impression that first account had struck in me was so powerful, that nothing would deter me from telling the story as I first conceived it.
Selene: Why did you eventually decide to turn Lilith's myth into a movie?
Elza: I was twenty-nine; I’d finished my first feature Graveyard Alive two years before, and its festival run was drawing to a close. I needed a new project but nothing was materializing. Meanwhile, to pay the rent, I worked as an assistant on film productions in Montreal. I started to feel trapped in these dead-end jobs. At the time I was working on one specific film, and there happened to be a lot of sexism coming from higher ups, and that really made me mad. I wanted to punch people, but because I was just a lowly assistant, and needed this money, I had to hold my ire in. I wanted more and more to fly away, to just escape this life and start afresh somewhere else.This is when I started getting flashes of Lilith awakening outside Eden, finding herself alone on the shores of the sea, with no knowledge of the world around her. I had forgotten about the book I’d read in college, but it must have been just stewing in the back of my mind. So all this frustration, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, desire for escape, ended up pushing Lilith’s story back to the forefront of my mind. I started telling people about this vague idea, and they didn’t understand, they thought I was just nuts. That discouraged me a little bit, but then I thought, no way, this is Lilith’s story! No one knows about it, so I have to tell it! Then I started doing research into locations, because I knew I couldn’t write it unless I knew where I could shoot it first. I made a list of all these national parks around Quebec, and with some location manager friends went on two, one-week trips across the province to look at these parks to figure out where to shoot. When I was satisfied I could shoot the film here, I started writing it.
Selene: What were your primary resources when researching Lilith outside of the Bible?
Elza: The primary one, as stated above, was “The Devil in Legend and Literature” by Maximilian Rudwin, but also The Gnostic Bible, “The lost books of the Bible and the forgotten books of Eden”, “Lilith, the First Eve” by Siegmund Hurwitz, “Le retour de Lilith: La lune noire”, by J. de Gravelaine, “Paradise Lost”, by Milton, “When God was a woman” by Merlin Stone, “Satan a biography” by Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Adam, Eve, and the Serpent” by Elaine Pagels, “The Wise Wound” by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, “Tree of Souls, the Mythology of Judaism” by Howard Schwartz, the Story of Lilith in the “Alphabet of Ben Sira”, and the wonderful “Diary of Adam” and “Diary of Eve” by Mark Twain.
Selene: What changes did you integrate into the myth of Lilith and why? (Did any of these changes originate from actual variations on the myth?)
Elza: Luckily, there is no one decisive version of the myth of Lilith, so I had a lot of leeway when constructing the story. I suppose the main change, which was in the first draft, were the presence of two angels who had come to bring Lilith back into the Garden; I had read this in the Alphabet of Ben-Sira. These angel character were used dramatically to drive the conflict, however, I realised after a few drafts that they were unnecessary, and in fact hampered the story, so I got rid of them.
I knew from the beginning I didn’t want to make her a demon, the mother of vampires, etc. I just wanted her to be a mortal woman who had to deal with her fate. I think that’s the biggest change from the modern, preconceived notion of Lilith.
In the Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith never returns to the Garden; she stays on the shore of the Red Sea and gives birth to Sammael’s (aka the Guardian), or in other versions, various demons’ children. I leave it open as to whether or not Lilith will be pregnant with the Guardian’s child at the end; I didn’t want to spell it out.
In “The Devil in Legend and Literature”, she and Sammael form a plan to return to the Garden and cause mischief between Adam and Eve. I tried writing a version where Lilith, once back in the Garden, decides to willingly cause trouble between Adam and Eve, but that didn’t ring true to her character, so I reverted to my initial draft, where she is more of an unwitting pawn in the Guardian’s plan.
The Guardian, who remains nameless in the film, was actually written to be Sammael, one of the many incarnations of the Devil/Lucifer. He did name himself at first, but I decided to cut that out, to leave his identity a mystery.
I also debated about whether the Guardian should sleep with Eve. In “The Devil in Legend and Literature”, it’s implied that he and Lilith have a sort of foursome- but I thought no, that’s getting too much into soft-core territory!
I debated showing Eve and Adam eat the apple and being kicked out, but I thought it would be redundant; we know what happens to them, we don’t need to see it in this story. What’s important is to show a hint of what could possibly have lead to this, but not more. Ultimately it’s not their story, it’s Lilith’s, so I didn’t want to dwell on their fate.
Selene: How did you decide on your portrayal of the other characters in the myth, like Adam and Eve?
Elza: Lilith, as I mentioned, I really fell in love with at first read; she was me, so I knew how to write her part from very early on.
I’ve definitely always been drawn to the character of Lucifer. He’s such a dark, tormented anti-hero, a character you root for against your better judgement, which is a type of character I love, like the vampire. It wasn’t hard to build that character; in fact, in college I had written a (pretty bad!) prose attempt at the retelling of the Devil’s being cast into Hell. It started when he and his legion “wake up” in hell, and realise what’s happened. I had created a female character called Iblis, which is the name of the Muslim Lucifer, who sort of morphed into Lilith, so perhaps that was the beginning of it all! All this to say, he’s a character I had in mind for a while. A part of me is definitely like Lucifer; I don’t like hypocrisy, I don’t like being told what to do for no reason, I like to question authority, so he was pretty fun and easy to write for.
Eve was the pretty new wife; she’s the innocent in this whole thing, she’s not sure what she’s gotten herself in to. When I read “The Diary of Eve” by Mark Twain, this really cemented the character in my mind. She’s not dumb, she’s just never been out much. I love writing those innocent characters who eventually start to question the established order, to most people’s surprise. I always write characters I can relate to, who are part of me in a way, so I suppose Eve was part of me. I can be pretty naïve and trusting, so I just dived into that part of myself. But at the same time you have to say “You go girl!” She was even more sheltered than Lilith, because she was created from Adam’s rib, and yet, she’s going to go as far as her.
As for Adam, well, I might get some flak for this, but I went to Germany in 2005, just before I started writing GITW, and some parts of German society really rubbed me the wrong way. There was a lot of people telling me what to do, being super rigid about rules for no reason, and if I ever questioned them, they couldn’t answer logically, they would basically say “It just is”. So, I think that’s why Adam has a little bit of that handsome Teutonic look. I know not EVERY German is like that, but I think that trip rubbed off on GITW unconsciously. That being said, I have a total soft spot for Adam; he loves rules, he loves obeying, and yet, we can start seeing a little crack in his veneer, and boy, is the outside world going to be a harsh reality for him when he gets kicked out of the Garden!!!
Selene: What was the main thing you hoped to convey to viewers of 'Go in the Wilderness'?
Elza: I want people to question themselves: why are they here, on earth. What’s the purpose of your life, or of life in general. Is it just to do what we’re told, to conform to society, or to seek and forge our own path? And if we do the latter it might be very hard; just because we’re doing what we want doesn’t mean it will be easy, sometimes quite the contrary. I feel it’s more important to go with our own instinct, with our own intuition of what is right than follow a prescribed path. Lilith doesn’t know why she escaped the Garden, she just knows she ran, and ended up outside. Sometimes we don’t really know why we feel like going in one direction, or another, but we have to learn to trust ourselves, to trust our instinct to lead us to what will be right. When she returns to the Garden, she realises why she left it; so she was right to leave, to begin with, but now she knows intellectually why she left it. I guess, basically, be true to yourself, trust yourself, even if it’s hard, and even if sometimes you just want to curl up in a small ball and cry.
I also wanted to convey the beauty of the natural world, and how that can transform us. The “Wilderness” is all wild landscapes, untouched by man, whereas Eden was all shot in “man-made” nature (a replanted forest, an orchard, a sunflower field). So I’m urging people to go beyond what they know, of their own boundaries. To go explore, even if it’s far, scary, unsafe. It’s better to push yourself than stay in the confines of what you know.
Selene: Did you learn anything about yourself from a spiritual perspective while making this movie?
Elza: Oh definitely! Not just from a spiritual perspective, but from a basic “life” perspective. I learned that I’m much stronger than I thought I was; I learned that even if things don’t work out as planned, it’s ok, it can be even better. You just have to see what you’re given, and find a different way of looking at this new outcome, to find the best in it. I also learned to take responsibility for my own actions. I basically grew up and became an adult.
Also, spending 3 weeks in the North Shore of Quebec, away from the hustle & bustle of civilisation, where the landscape is so big it pierces right through you, gave me such a great appreciation for nature, for the role nature can play in shaping our perspective of ourselves. We’re just tiny specs on earth, tiny specs in time. We’re nothing, really, just dust. So we better accept it, and make the best of it. Learn to become one with the universe, one with nature, to know that when we die we go back, in one form or another, into the energy of the world.