Interview: Director Ron Krauss, Kathy DiFiore for ‘Gimme Shelter’

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CHICAGO – The opportunity for a new film to also take up a cause is one of the advantages of the movies as mass art. “Gimme Shelter” is the based-on-truth story of a runaway pregnant teen named Apple (Vanessa Hudgens) who needs the titular sanctuary to give birth. Director Ron Krauss leads an all-star cast, including Ann Dowd (“Compliance”), who portrayed the real-life facilitator of the shelter for single mothers, Kathy DiFiore.

Vanessa Hudgens
Vanessa Hudgens as Apple in ‘Gimme Shelter,’ from Writer/Director Ron Krauss
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

Ron Krauss is directing his first major feature, after winning festival acclaim for his previous films “Amexica” and “Rave.” He began his career writing, producing and directing the TV series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” which featured Martin Sheen, Ed Asner and Charles Durning. Kathy DiFiore is the founder of Several Sources Shelter, the sanctuary for single mothers featured in the film. She began her efforts in 1981, and 33 years later still oversees the now five residential shelters, and has been honored for her work by the United Nations and three presidents. got the opportunity to talk to both the director and the inspiration for “Gimme Shelter,” in the following conversation with Ron Krauss and Kathy DiFiore. Ron, when you are putting a story together that creates a line between fact and drama, what kind of balancing act do you favor to keep the perspective closest to the truth?

Ron Krauss: In most based-on-truth treatments, the story is told after the fact, from another person’s perspective. The difference with ‘Gimme Shelter’ is that it’s not made that way, it was made with my boots on the ground, I was in the shelter. I filmed it with the actual girls in the shelter, and I created the location settings in the actual place. There is no blur between fact and fiction, because it was made as the shelter’s purpose goes on. I was there as it was happening around me. Kathy, you worked with actor Ann Dowd in creating the character of yourself. What trait did she borrow from you that really stood out when you saw the film for the first time?

Kathy DiFiore: She portrayed me to a tee. I cried when I saw her performance for the first time, because the film created an atmosphere that is so like the shelter. We see the suffering that the main character Apple goes through, as well as the other mothers there, and we see their blossoming.

Krauss: Ann and Kathy worked very closely together. I encouraged that, even to the point when I had Ann go into Kathy’s wardrobe. They are similar to each other, and Ann has been active in helping young children in her own life. One of the lines in the film that best defines Kathy’s work, is when Rosario Dawson’s character fights to pull her daughter out of the shelter, and Kathy puts her arm around Apple and says, ‘I got you.’ You had a dream cast. What has been your method of communication for getting the correct performance from an actor in congress with your writing and direction over the years, and did that method alter or evolve with the cast of ‘Gimme Shelter’?

Krauss: It’s a certain technique that I work with that infuses the reality of the situation, and I work specifically in these types of films. My last feature, ‘Amexica,’ was about human trafficking, there was the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ TV show, and my first short film, “Puppies for Sale,” which is about disabilities.

I grew up with a disability and was somewhat sheltered. I was always constantly thinking about how I was just as good as everyone else, even though I couldn’t do what everybody else did. I understand human emotion and people because I was in that struggle.

Ron Krauss
Director Ron Krauss Sets a Scene for ‘Gimme Shelter’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions Kathy, what do you feel that society in general still doesn’t understand about the plight of a single mother in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy?

DiFiore: We gotten more accustomed to it as a society, and we have figured it to be part of the norm. But what society doesn’t understand is that it’s gotten more difficult to become pregnant without a support system. It’s still not average, they still have trouble in school and with the baby’s father, they are just cast aside. The problem is more difficult than it used to be, even more than when I started in 1981. It’s much more difficult now.

Krauss: When I was making this film, we went through one of the worst economic crisis in history. It just makes Kathy’s work all the more difficult and important. More people need help and the face of homelessness has changed. It can be good people living paycheck-to-paycheck, who lost their jobs. Kathy’s shelters are acts of kindness, and I wanted create more awareness to those you reach out and help people. You can go to her website,, and find out how to open your own shelter. There is a bit of clashing of economic classes in ‘Gimme Shelter.’ What do you think is different about the attitude of the one-percenters – as depicted in your film – towards lower income victims like Apple?

Krauss: Well, it is based on a true story, there is a real Tom Kirkpatrick. So I had the real people, but I used it in the script as a role model. Even though the character seemed to have everything, that represented the American dream of the past, and Apple represented the future.

The real face of America is now multi-ethnic, and the definition of family has changed dramatically. In screening after screening, people keep saying that is me on the screen. The face of America is also single Moms, single Dads, foster care and poverty, those people shouldn’t feel like outcasts. The reality is, if you have somebody in your life, you can now call it a family. Kathy, going back to the experience that inspired you to build the shelter – what part of what you went through do you always take back to the girls to help them get back on their feet?

Kathy DiFiore, Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan Honors Kathy DiFiore
Photo credit:

DiFiore: It’s twofold. First I can relate to abuse, I was in abusive marriage, and I had to muster up the courage to walk out one day. And in the struggle to go place-to-place, bed-to-bed, I had to understand what homelessness was. Secondly, I am a person of faith. I depended on my relationship with God, prayer and used the courage derived from that to get a job and put my life back together.

As that happened, I realized I had to give back, so I turned it around. I was able to purchase a small home, and developed the shelter. The women who used it needed it, and eventually three women who lived with me have opened their own non-profits shelters. And I have instructions on how to open your own shelter on my website. Ron, what directors have impressively influenced your style of filmmaking, and do you even include a tribute to them in your screenplays or production result?

Krauss: I do that a lot, although it’s fairly subtle. But I don’t have one favorite film, I have thousands. This film was more of a handmade movie, shot on Super 16 film, and used cinematographers from Belgium who had worked with French realist filmmakers. So this one was an homage to the Eastern European verité filmmakers, the 1960s neorealism period. Not a popular style today, but I am fascinated with it and wanted to try it. Since this is a smaller film, about a subject that is rarely seen at the movies, what message do you want to communicate most from it?

Krauss: I do want to say that the greatest special effect in the movies is human emotion. This is a smaller movie, with a human story for people, and these films survive with just word of mouth. Besides the social media, there is and, which chronicles my living in the shelter for a year, the work of the shelters and if you’re looking for a shelter – no matter where you’re at – we have listings there. And you can also reach me directly on Facebook or @KraussRonald on Twitter.

“Gimme Shelter” opens everywhere on January 24th. Featuring Vanessa Hudgens, James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and Ann Dowd. Written and directed by Ron Krauss. Rated “PG-13.” For more information about the shelter work of Kathy DiFiore, click on senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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