In 1974, Mark Godfrey and Andy Godfrey suffered an unthinkable tragedy when the brothers were the only survivors of a plane crash that killed their parents and brother and sister. At just 11 and 8-years-old, they somehow managed to survive three days and two nights in the bitterly cold mountains of Colorado.
Over the last 40 years, the brothers have barely spoken about the devastating ordeal, but they finally address a defining moment in their lives in 3 Days 2 Nights, which made its New York premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival. We caught up with the film’s director John Breen, who resides in East Hampton, about the documentary.
After more than 40 years, why were the Godfrey brothers ready to talk about their experience now?
JB: I would say both brothers had this feeling inside that they wanted to tell this story, they wanted to share it. They were told as kids after this crash and really kept being told probably through their teen years, don’t let this define you. There’s no reason to talk about it. If people want to talk to you about it, just give them a little canned answer and move on. Don’t let this define your life. So, I think they kept all of that inside of themselves, even between themselves. They didn’t talk about it.
They were together over a holiday and they’d had dinner with their families, and afterward one of the brothers asked a question about something that happened during that the plane crash. They looked at each other and said, why haven’t we talked about this before? I think they privately sort of started thinking about the idea of separately and privately writing a book. Also, there are a lot of questions about what really happened because they didn’t go out and do any discovery about why did the plane crash or why did this happen? Why do we do this? There was a lot of that going on. I think that what would eventually led to this film being made was a treatment for a book that Andy Godfrey, the younger brother, wrote it that The Aspen Times published in there and did a cover story in their Sunday paper. When Andy wrote that story and submitted it, he was very interested in his story. He was sort of going through a little bit of a spiritual quest at the time and thinking about his life in different ways. He thought that this story was something that he can help other people, that he could share this story and it would inspire people, it could help other people that maybe were going through similar issues that he was going through. I think that that was the thing that initially led Andy to writing that treatment and his hope was that a book would be written from that treatment. However, that treatment led to this film.
Mark had also been working on some book idea as well. I think his thing was more about that he wanted to take this thing that had been inside of him for so long, that he wasn’t sharing and was a burden for him, and I think he wanted to get it out there. Again, he thought his story could inspire people. But, also, he wanted to sort of purge himself and take what was inside of him and get it out there, in hopes that he would help people but also help himself.
How did you get involved in the project?
JB: I was friends with them. We’ve been friends since I was six, seven-years-old. We grew up in Houston together and prior to the crash, we were best friends, our families and their families were very close. We remained very, very good friends over the years. When I saw Andy’s story in The Aspen Times, I got in touch with him and told him that I had some friends who are writers and may be interested in taking on the project. I followed up with him and told him that indeed, I went out and asked these friends of mine. However, they weren’t interested, but I approached the idea of doing a documentary film because my in-laws are sort of a documentary filmmaking family, the Pennebaker family, and so I asked my brother-in-law if he’d be interested in shooting the film. He said yes. We decided let’s go on one shooting trip, see how you guys [the Godfrey brothers] feel about it. You guys have to want to get in front of a camera and do this. It’s going to take some courage and bravery. Also, let’s see how I feel about if we have a story there or not and that we have something that can be made into a film. We wanted to inspire people, we wanted to move people, we want people to see this story and reflect on their own lives and examine things in their lives that could be the decisions they made that maybe they want to reconsider. There’s a real nostalgic element to it as well.
Once you did realize that there was indeed a film to be made, what was your process?
JB: Well, I’m a first time filmmaker, so I didn’t go in there with a big this is the way I’m going to do it. But, with our deep friendship that we had and me being so familiar with this story and being inspired my whole life by these guys, by my friends, the process for me was to go out there and just get as much honesty and truth on film as possible. I wanted to get involved, because as I said if these guys can inspire me, maybe there’s a whole lot of people that can also be inspired by this story.
So, the process was to go out there and shoot them. I knew the things in the story that inspired me and I focused on those things. Jojo [Pennebaker] and I went out and did probably 8/10 shoots. Then we began the editing process, which was a very difficult three-year process because of how many years it covers. It’s a 45 year story. They had their lives before the crash and their families before the crash and post crash they had their aunt and uncle that they moved in with. That was sort of another family component. They each ultimately rebuilt that family tree that was lost and had their own families. It was hard to go between past and present, present and past, and the various families and that’s why it was a three-year editing process.
For the Godfrey brothers, what was it like to recount such a traumatic period of their life?
JB: I think it was hard and it was hard also because they had done so little of this, of examining it and really confronting it. I would say that it was shocking to me, in a way, the way it started off because Mark, who’s older, particularly when we first started, he had a tough time getting through 30 seconds of speaking without breaking down because he had never, ever spoken about it before to other people. It was incredibly surprising. But it was traumatic for them. It was traumatic for me even to watch it. I had never grieved with them and it was almost like we were finally, after 40 years, we were grieving this horrible tragedy that happened to them 40 years before. So, it was incredibly traumatic, I think, for them, especially initially, because they were confronting things they just never had.
Also, I think, just the idea of doing this in front of a camera was probably a traumatic thing. But, we went and visited the point of impact for the plane, where the plane actually crashed. There was still debris 40 years later on the mountainside. But I do recall how it was so quiet and those two brothers and their sister was with them and during this time, it was so quiet that it almost felt and they said it in the film that they could feel their parents there, they could feel them, they could almost hear them. I don’t know if that goes along with trauma, but that whole idea of having this something 40 years later and having it so real still and so close to you and feeling it so deeply inside you, I think for them, those were surprising things. Whether it’s trauma or not, but, certainly confronting this thing 40 years later was a traumatic thing for them.
What do you hope that the audience takes away?
JB: What I would like the audience to take away is the same thing I’ve taken away from the story, which the story moves me, inspires me. It makes me consider my life and how I’ve lived it and how I’m living it. I’d say that is what I’d like the audience to take away from it. But, more than that, and when I hear from audience members that have seen it before, is that they are moved to consider, they think about their childhood, they think about their parents. They think about their brothers and sisters, their best friends. That’s an incredible thing that people are getting – this whole feeling of the stages of their lives and thinking about it and maybe they even think about how did I get here? How did I get to this point in my life? I think that’s a great thing for people to be able to examine their lives.
It’s kind of a beautiful thing because I’ve done it, it’s allowed me to do it, to think back on my youth and some of those dreams and thoughts that I had when I was a boy. Because those guys had their hopes and dreams dashed and taken from them. I think this story has allowed them to kind of revisit and think about what were those dreams that I had and I can still have those dreams and if not for me, then for my children.
As an East Hampton resident, what does it mean to you to have your first film featured locally at the Hamptons International Film Festival?
JB: I’m thrilled about it. I’m thrilled for the film to be showing at the Hamptons International Film Festival. I have probably a 40 or 45 year history here. My parents came here all the time. I have a brother who lives here and all of my brothers are here in the summertime. I have deep, deep friendships and relationships here. I’m thrilled to be able to share it here with my hometown community, and many people in this hometown actually, in big ways and small ways, helped out with film, whether it’s designing the website or doing some voiceover work for the film. But, big and small, lots of folks around here helped me and gave me great support over the last five years doing this. I’m really appreciative to David [Nugent] and Anne [Chaisson] for giving me the opportunity to show the film here to the community and to the folks here.
After the Hamptons International Film Festival, where can 3 Days 2 Nights be seen?
JB: We just finished the final cut about six or eight weeks ago. We’re going to a few more festivals and we’re in the process of looking for distribution. We’re hoping to have some news soon about a wide release and where people can see it after the festival circuit. We’re showing it at the Denver Film Festival next month. We’re showing it down in Houston. We’re showing it back here in the Hamptons Doc Fest in December. There’s a festival in Europe we’re hoping to show it to and we’re got a few more that we’re submitting to for early next year.
For more information about 3 Days 2 Nights, visit 3days2nightsmovie.com.