An Interview with Catherine Tatge
Producer-director of The Question of God
Q: The Question of God is a spiritual and intellectual journey into the minds of two of the 20th century's greatest thinkers as they answer the question of whether or not God exists. What was the journey like for you, both in terms of tackling the subject matter and contributing to an age-old debate?
A: The Question of God led to challenges I never anticipated. The subject so stimulated the production team's feelings about its faith, or lack of it, that certain unconscious opinions tended to work their way into the process. Writers wanted to push the material in certain directions. Editors wanted to leave things out. Negotiating a clear central path through the material — while stressful — gave us all a key for how Dr. Nicholi's seminar might play on the screen. But it wasn't easy!
Q: While Dr. Armand Nicholi's medium is primarily written text, as a filmmaker, you took on the material from a visual perspective. What were the most important aspects, visually, that you wanted to present, and what were the challenges of translating this debate into a visual medium?
A: Our series is propelled by documentary re-creations, in actual locations, of key moments in the lives and respective journeys of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. I believed it was important to have an authentically European feel, particularly to ensure that the look was true to the times and places depicted. So our production team was European — the composer is Czech, the director of photography is Slovenian (he won an Oscar for "The Tin Drum"), the set designer is French, and the editor is English. The producer — my husband, Dominique Lasseur — is French also.
In order to provide variety, and the appearance of a direct exchange between Freud and Lewis, I have them engage in hypothetical debates about moral law, evil, and loving your neighbor. Their words, however, are excerpted from their own writings, but we worked hard to make it appear as if they talked back and forth about these issues all of their lives.
With such a complex documentary journey of information and ideas, it's important to have time to stop and think along the way. Armand Nicholi's class on Freud and Lewis at Harvard encourages discussion about the series' major themes, but lecture-seminars, while stimulating, are visually static. In order to be true to who Dr. Nicholi is and what he does, Dominique and I set up the group conversations about faith at a round table, where there was plenty of opinion and disagreement. So not only do we meet people from the past, in the context of the societies they grew up in, but we meet people much like ourselves, who are grappling with their own truths today.
Q: What message do you want people to take with them from the experience of watching The Question of God?
A: I was raised in the Middle East in the early 1950s and lived in Beirut for eight years. Around my family's dinner table, through a child's eyes, I saw Christians, Jews, and Muslims laughing, talking, and socializing. I've held that vision with each of my projects — projects that I hope bring people together, projects that are about reconciliation.
The important thing for me is that a dialogue is proposed and encouraged. It's an imperfect one, to be sure, and hardly all-encompassing. The series is set up as dialogue: one between Sigmund Freud the atheist and C.S. Lewis the believer, and the other among a group of intelligent people with differing views of faith. I hope that these dialogues prompt others this fall, after viewers have seen it and are encouraged to share their own feelings.
Q: Given this project and others you've done previously, such as the Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers series, the subject of spiritual belief is obviously important and intriguing to you. How did that come to be true, and are you guided by a particular worldview yourself?
A: My own faith journey began many years ago — and it's not over. I haven't "arrived" at my destination. I'm still on the road. I was raised a Catholic, which I never questioned until I became a teenager. At that time, I had a philosophical disagreement with a priest in my parish, one who didn't know how to deal with the questions that a young person asks. That drove me in other directions.
After exploring other beliefs, I was drawn to the metaphysical teachings of Ernest Holmes, whose work embraces our connection with each other, and with God as a universal power and intelligence. My husband, Dominique, is agnostic, and our two children are being raised in the Congregational Church.
Q: Has the experience of making this film changed your worldview?
A: I'm still on the journey. The Question of God dictated that I walk a path through the extremes of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, which I was happy to do. I am always eager to experience where my pathways take me.
We live in a world that polarizes beliefs. Stands are rigidly taken. The Question of God, as well as other projects that I intend to do, will, I hope, bring ways for us to respectfully hear others. If we never move from our own positions — particularly where God is concerned — perhaps we can at least understand. Such are the underpinnings of peace.
Copyright © 2004 WGBH Educational Foundation