Michelle Godoy Priske (’13) took on her first feature film director role at the age of 22. Fresh out of school and ready to put her skills to the test in the indie world, she partnered with her brother, Ivan Godoy Priske, the film’s script writer and producer.
It was an exciting time, but also one full of intense pressure.
“It was a lot to put on two people who were doing their first feature film,” says Michelle. “You are in a position of influence where everyone is looking at you to lead and set the tone for the day. It’s a huge responsibility.”
On top of all that comes with managing a film production, there was also the fear that came from directing actors who had a lot more experience than her. She found she questioned herself and whether she was really good enough to direct.
“I was 22, directing Raoul Max Trujillo, who was directed by Mel Gibson and Terrence Malik. That’s a lot of pressure!” says Michelle. “But Raoul was incredible to work with. He is so kind and so supportive. He is a phenomenal actor and human being.”
On top of the pressure of being a young director, Michelle felt she had to gain peoples respect where others were just given it. “I was a young woman stepping into what some see as a ‘mans’ job,” says Michelle.
But all through the project, she felt grounded, something that she attributes to the grace of God. The real trouble didn’t come until after production on the film ended.
All That Came Next
The film, 13 Steps, is a grueling story about a family fleeing to Canada to escape the Mexican drug cartel. After finishing production, Michelle says she had a lot to process. Engaging in the heavy content of the story—exploring what it’s like to be a refuge in a foreign country when every aspect of your future is unknown—dredged up a lot of personal trauma from her own life. Confusion, anxiety, and emotions unlike anything she’d ever experienced flooded her, and she wasn’t sure what to do with it all.
“It was emotionally the worst time of my life,” says Michelle. “It was to the point where I was driving myself to the ER because I thought I was going crazy.”
On the way to the ER, she had to pull the car over. Heart racing and head pounding, she opened the car door and fell to her knees on the side of the road. Looking heavenward, she cried out to God to help her.
And in that moment of deep despair, she heard him speak.
“I felt God say ‘Michelle, get back in your car. We’re going to do this together.’ So I got back in, and since that day, my life changed. I let go and let God lead,” says Michelle.
Centered in Christ
After that encounter with God, Michelle found she was able to fully let go of her control and allow God to lead her in exposing the things in her life that she’d been suppressing. She identifies four major things that had to happen for her to truly heal.
“First, for me, beyond anything else, I needed God. Second, I needed to find support. For me that was counselling. Third, I needed to find a community and put myself there. And fourth, I had to re-evaluate the people I was surrounding myself with and where I was putting my time,” explains Michelle. “I needed to learn and set healthy boundaries.”
“I think we carry so much trauma and anxiety in life,” Michelle continues. “We’re trying to get here, or to do this thing, or to make more money. It’s an ‘I need’ world. We ask ourselves, what do I need to fulfill this person’s view of me? Or feel successful? Or good enough? When in reality, none of that matters. As Solomon says, it’s like striving after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). It’s all fleeting. It all comes down to being God-centered and enjoying the journey with Him as He forms, equips and guides us to enter our true calling.”
Finding Her Voice
Through the experience of making 13 Steps, and the subsequent stress that followed, Michelle feels she’s finally found her voice and knows what message she wants to communicate with her art.
“I’ve found my voice as Michelle, as a filmmaker, and as a daughter of God,” says Michelle. “I’m learning every day and reminding myself. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that. No amount of money, or career highlights, or all these things we think we need, nothing could replace the joy of finding my own voice. Because what’s the point of having ten Oscars on my shelf and feeling like I don’t know who I am? That to me is not success.”
“You have to be vulnerable to be successful in my opinion. Vulnerability will change your career, your personal life and your spiritual life,” adds Michelle with a smile.
To other young filmmakers who might be feeling lost or discouraged as they try to make their mark in the world, Michelle encourages them to persevere and find their passion, their calling, and their voice.
“They all go hand in hand,” says Michelle, adding, “You will receive an enormous amount of rejection in this business, but it has nothing to do with who you are. I’m here today because I feel God’s called to the film industry, and that says more than any rejection letter.”
Michelle recognizes that she’s at the beginning of her career, and she hopefully has a whole lifetime of film-making ahead of her. But not matter what comes from her movie or her future projects, she knows she’s already succeeded, because she’s learned to be grounded in who she is and to have her center in Christ.
“13 Steps” is a film by siblings Michelle and Ivan Godoy Priske, Mexican-Canadian filmmakers from Vancouver Canada. They are debuting their first feature film. Michelle Godoy Priske debut as a director explores the struggles and trauma faced by a pair of siblings whose tragic loss follows them into the present, with devastating consequences. Ivan Godoy Priske debut, as a screenwriter, draws from lived experiences to paint a fictional portrait of siblings Rogelio and Izar, who find themselves embroiled in a chapter of their past they thought they had escaped. The value of “13 Steps” goes far beyond a dramatic thriller, and explores issues of empowerment after trauma, LGBT relationships, the desire to do what is right rather than what is easy, and portrays the struggle to live as an immigrant in a society that isn’t always welcoming.