Q&A with ‘Gimme Shelter’ Director Ron Krauss

The real-life drama Gimme Shelter, starring Vanessa Hudgens as a pregnant, homeless teen who seeks refuge at a shelter for women, arrives in theaters this Friday. The movie is based on the work of Kathy DiFiore, who runs Several Sources Shelters, and the girls she has helped over three decades. We had the opportunity to sit down with Kathy and the film’s director, Ron Krauss,

What inspired you to make Gimme Shelter?

Ron Krauss: What inspired me was the 33 years of this woman’s work helping thousands of people. I’m just a link in the chain. At some point in her work I was tapped on the shoulder to pay attention to this place, which just happened to be a mile or so from my brother’s house in New Jersey. So one holiday I go to visit my brother, with the mindset of at best doing a documentary. At best. Maybe not even that.

So I walked in and it just looked like a suburban house, not a shelter. It’s practically the shelter you see in the movie, because we shot in the real shelters. They’re real homes. Not these urban commercial buildings; they are homes that were given to Kathy by people who can afford these homes. So the neighborhoods they are in are more middle class.

Upon being there I just saw something incredible, it was something I had never seen before. I started to talk with the people there and interviewing Kathy and these young mothers, and it just kept getting me, my heart, my mind. I maybe sat with 30 girls over a period of a couple weeks and a couple of the girls really inspired me, one or two in particular, and I realized that this was a common story, this story of abuse and neglect, not just about the teen pregnancy aspect–that was the least of it for me–it’s about this unique place in society that people needed to know about it. This kind of work can spread, this generosity can spread, it’s something people can do, they don’t need a shelter, they just need the feeling to give to other people, Kathy’s message of just helping and reaching people can spread to other people.

How did Gimme Shelter evolve from being a documentary to a feature-length film?

Ron: I had this thought that a feature film would be something that would reach many more people than a documentary. So I approached Kathy about this, and maybe she thought that was a crazy idea, because she had been doing this for 33 years and had been protecting herself all that time, in the sense of the girls and the shelters by not doing any publicity and remaining low key. She was doing it in a selfless kind of way.

She wasn’t inspired by doing the movie, but when we talked we decided the movie should be about the work, not about her. That’s why she’s a character in the movie but only when it lifts and emphasizes the story and that was challenging in itself because I had to delicately put together something that would carry the mantle of all these girls, and not just the girls in the shelters but the hundreds of thousands of girls in crisis who are just like Apple [Vanessa Hudgens’ character]. At the same time I wasn’t interested in making some controversial teen pregnancy movie. That’s not my style.

kathy-difiore-vanessa-hudgensKathy, describe your  hesitance about making a movie based on your life’s work?

Kathy DiFiore: It was a complex choice that I was faced with. And ultimately maybe God was tapping me on the shoulder, saying it’s time, you’ve done your job, now you have to communicate to others. I was just on the phone with a woman from Idaho, at the end of the conversation she was telling me about friends who were planning to start a shelter, and I have a “How to open a shelter” kit. If I hadn’t done this movie with Ron I never would have met this young lady. So hopefully this movie will open hearts and minds to these young women.

Kathy, what’s it like to see someone else play you in a movie?

Kathy: It’s absolutely superb. Ron gave me the wonderful gift of speaking with Ann Dowd, she is just a wonderful woman, and in many ways Ann mimics me as a person. She just wanted to do things as best as she possibly could. She portrays me very well and there are certain scenes that I cry every time I see them, because I see myself. It’s bizarre, but it’s good. I like what she did with it.

Vanessa Hudgens’ character is an amalgamation of several real-life women. How much of the movie is true?

Ron: It’s all true. The razor blade scene… One of the key people that Apple is based on is Darlisha Dozier. She’s someone who really woke me up to make this film. One night I came to meet Kathy and I got there early and saw this young girl standing in front of the shelter and it was like 18 degrees out. I didn’t know who she was, so I asked her to come inside. She thought I worked at the shelter, I thought she lived at the shelter. Kathy shows up and says, “Who’s this?” She then pulls me aside and says, “Never let anyone into the shelter.” But she spoke to Darlisha and came back to say, “Ron, we have a spare bed, why don’t you go and tell Darlisha she can stay here.” So I told her. And bam! This girl hugged me so I hard I swear she almost knocked me over. Literally. It sent a jolt into my body. The next day I came back and Kathy informs me they had to take her to the hospital. It turns out she had walked about 30 miles to get there, in the cold and with no jacket, and she’s three months pregnant. I went home thinking, and that was the moment that I decided we needed to make Gimme Shelter.

Kathy: This is the point, this is why this movie had to be made. There are so many young women out there that live on the brink of disaster. We’ve changed as a culture. In 33 years, when I was helping unwed mothers, it was one type of a thing. Girl got pregnant, mom and dad got upset, as soon as the baby is born, she’s out. It’s not that way anymore. The young ladies that come to us are Apples. They’re living in a culture that you and I don’t understand. They are just throwaway people. It’s somebody like me, and the people who run the 550 shelters in the U.S., who say, “No, come here, we’re going to love you.” If not, what’s going to happen to these kids?

What’s the main thing you want people to walk away with?

Kathy: If they watch Gimme Shelter, they’re going to find their lives better. I know my life is filled with joy, I am probably one of the happiest people on other earth.

Ron: I would just say that I would hope that this film… it isn’t just about young women, it’s about all women, and not just about women, but people who have had a tough road in life. I hope that whoever sees this film that they get lifted in the face of struggles that they can see this film and be either inspired to help someone else…

Ron, what movies did you watch growing up?

Ron: It’s ever evolving, movies are always personal, what movies you like now relates to something in your current life. When I was really young, I was fascinated by big Hollywood movies but it was also what was available to me. I remember growing up in New York and Channel 9 and every Sunday, I would just sit and watch movies. They would only play the “Million Dollar Movie” and some five years later it became the “Billion Dollar Movie,” but it would always be these old black and white movies, Abbott & Costello and Dracula.

The first film I saw that was overwhelming was Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. I must have watched that five times when it came out.

But as you get older, things get more complex, I was interested in much more complicated 1960’s Italian cinema and neo-realism and many things that inspired this film Gimme Shelter. European cinema, too, that was getting more into personal feelings in life. But things will change. You’ll see another movie of mine down the road and it will be completely different.

For more information, visit Several Sources Shelters.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Drama Movies
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