Daniel Kokotajlo discusses the autobiographical roots and the making of his feature debut, Apostasy, set in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In a religious context, ‘apostasy’ is described as the act of giving up your religious beliefs and leaving a religion. It is the title and central topic of Daniel Kokotajlo’s feature debut, Apostasy, centred on a Mancunian family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which falls apart after the eldest daughter leaves the faith. But the word itself is never mentioned in the film. As Kokotajlo tells us, the term and its meaning are practically taboo amongst those who believe in Jehovah.
Films about faith can often struggle to involve an audience of non-believers. It can be difficult to relate to — or even care about — characters whose pain stems from beliefs that we do not share. Kokotajlo, himself a former Witness, avoids this obstacle by simply, and gracefully, never attempting to explain that which is impossible to explain. A belief, by definition, is something felt and not proven.
Apostasy is not about whether the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses are true, or even valid. Rather, the film focuses on the sense of community that faith can bring, and the difficulties involved in leaving that community, but also in remaining faithful to it. When Luisa (Sacha Parkinson) decides to leave the religion; her mother, Ivanna, (Siobhan Finneran) and her sister, Alex (Molly Wright), are torn between their love for her and their love for Jehovah.
Kokotajlo talked to me about focusing on individuals within the religion, centring the experiences of three women, helping the actors stay in character, and crafting the film’s visual style.