Q& A with Director/Producer Lukas Behnken
'I Hate You But It’s Killing Me', is the latest documentary by Sterling Light Productions co-founder and creative producer Lukas Behnken. Lukas, best known for his award-winning documentary MULLY, aims to provoke deep questions about moral dilemmas in his films. Lukas is also a director, story consultant, Unit Production Manager for the Directors Guild of America, and an accomplished actor in over 50 films and TV shows.
Here’s a Q&A with Lukas about his experience making 'I Hate You But It’s Killing Me.'
Why did you decide to make this film?
I was at a Q&A for MULLY when a gentleman with a production company in L.A. named Derrick Warfel approached me about making a documentary on the topic of hate. He handed me the book “Conquest Over Hatred” about Donny Williams, who would later be featured in I Hate You But It’s Killing Me. I took the book and said that I’d be interested in diving into a research phase of how I might go about addressing that topic. I believe that you need something unique and new around a topic to have it be an additional tool in society. I watched about 20 films related to hate in my research and noticed there wasn’t a lot of content about hate between people who know each other. More often than not, the hate we see in the U.S. towards a more general population of people has a starting point with a specific person. I decided I wanted to address the very root cause of hate.
Why is this film so important right now?
People have never been more connected with what’s going on in the world than we are today. COVID lockdowns were a unique period of time because everybody had to go into confinement and confront their personal lives in a deep way. What that did in relation to this topic of hate was heighten everyone’s feelings and opinions. We became more aware of our personal answers to questions like: What am I doing with my life? Who do I trust or not trust? Who or what do I not care about? Who or what do I love? A lot of people discovered the need to release certain feelings toward someone in their lives. We all found things we wanted to work on in ourselves. Having this tool, the documentary, that witnesses how a number of people have overcome long-standing hate toward someone that they know personally is a valuable asset during this time of deep self-reflection.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?
That epiphany that hate hurts the person who is hating more than it hurts the person that you hate. We cannot change another person. We can only change ourselves. And for those that may want to hurt themselves, I hope they see that the way you treat yourself matters and your life right now can become much better in a short amount of time.
What does it take for people to have that “a-ha” moment when they realize that their hatred toward someone they know is not serving them?
The common moment is desperation. It’s a realization that whatever you’ve been doing is not working. Do you learn that after ten times? A thousand times? It depends on the person. It takes information being presented in a new way, a new perspective, to shock a person’s understanding and shed a new light.
How does someone find the root cause of their hate?
That’s the hard work – discovering what was the first wrong. Asking if what happened to you is a branch, or truly the root cause. If we can get to the root of the hate then we can redirect it. You have to find the very beginning.
This film is being released right before the holidays. How can this help people cope?
The film was intentionally developed to provide tools and new ways of thinking about a situation that viewers may not have thought about before. It’s filled with lots of different people and their stories to show a variety of ways that people manage the heaviest of their feelings. By watching during this time when our emotions are heightened and we’re around the people that trigger us the most, my hope is that we may provide an additional way out to deal with rebuilding these relationships, or at least building better boundaries.
What did you learn from making this film that surprised you?
My philosophy of forgiveness was challenged to the maximum. For instance, I read this story of a woman who forgave her daughter’s killer, and I kept wondering how she could do that, how much of her time was she really okay with this, and did she really hate him or want revenge. I was surprised by how extremely strong and powerful some of these people are. You learn anyone can get revenge. It takes extreme constraint and peace of mind and calmness, which is a hundred times more difficult than retaliation, to overcome hate.
How will doing this film impact your future films?
Directing this film really helped me define my purpose and my production company’s purpose. I’m getting to expand on what I did with MULLY where we created a large social action campaign tied to the movie with a purpose and a cause. Everything that I witnessed and learned by creating I Hate You, But It’s Killing Me will be further honed and structured for upcoming films – how we can inspire and encourage people to take action in their own lives when they’re moved and track it so that we can share these stories. I’m extremely excited about how we're doing that, why we’re doing that, and I intend to only do movies with a clear social action component from now on.
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