What sparked the initial idea behind this short film?
The high level of undue controversy the Media were creating over even the simple wearing of the hijab struck me. At some point, context started to become irrelevant and individuals were being condemned out of turn, without even minimal interest in knowing or understanding their perspectives. And as I ruminated on it, the idea for Sacred Hair was slowly hatched.
How did you come up with ‘Sacred Hair’ as the title for your film?
The seed that the media had planted about the hijab evolved naturally to the common denominator that reunites us all – the sanctity we all place in our hair, across religions, cultures, gender, personal identity and all other orientations we can name. Even choosing to shave your hair makes a statement.
Tell us about the casting.
The casting was a bit of a challenge on two fronts: the pool of Arab looking female actors in Montreal was infinitesimal, and trying to find a young talented child actor able to carry such a big role, with a lot of dialogue, and two long shoot days. But along with all other aspects of this production, though it took a constant renewal of both effort and faith to complete, the universe seemed to put all the people, things and opportunities in our path when they were needed. When each new obstacle surfaced, I would meditate, take another breath and another step, and then the missing piece of the puzzle would manifest itself. We were privileged to attract such great people who believed in and wanted to be a part of, telling a meaningful story.
What are your thoughts on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting?
Wow, big question. I noted that the shooter used the expression “our” people…but who is “our” people? He doesn’t see that “our” people, is the whole world. Everyone is different superficially but our essence is the same. You can’t prevent destruction by destroying (people). You become the destruction you’re rebelling against.
The world is so compartmented. We classify, divide, separate, file, measure, count, polarize everything and everyone. From my point of view, though he doesn’t realize it, what the killer is trying to annihilate is not so much that another ethnicity is trying to take something away from him, but the removal of his own suffering at the fact that he is different, misunderstood, or unhappy. What you do outside yourself is linked intimately with what you do inside yourself. It’s a reflection. My hypothesis is that the deep motives of the man who killed those at the synagogue, what lives behind the fact that anyone tries to kill another person or culture, comes from the fact that he’s trying to unconsciously eradicate his own suffering, or difference, or feelings of not being valued, and he reacts externally because he doesn’t realize that his suffering is internally created. As an example, many years ago, my apartment was robbed. I felt violated, like throwing up. The first thing I did after seeing my ransacked place was to run outside to find the responsible party – and suddenly they were all thieves, especially the big, fat sloppy guys. For those people that looked derelict or different somehow, I surprised myself judging them – Lazy, neglected appearance, tattooed, or displaying some difference that I could apply my anger to…some marginality or difference. I needed a place to land my suffering. So the reality is, it’s the disparity in and of society as a whole, which leaves some people somehow underserved – whether emotionally, psychologically, financially, etc., that creates fear and anger and separation, and translates into “If you don’t look like me, think like me, or appear close to what I am, you won’t help me get what I want, so you are a menace to my survival. Whether on a micro or macro scale, people don’t wake up one morning and decide…I think today I will be: angry, an asshole, a liar, a tyrant…a killer…they no longer see a way to regulate what has come to be insupportable over time and then they react to alleviate it. When a rabid animal is in its state of sickness induced rage, it attaches its pain to any movement it perceives. Thinking that the stimulus is responsible, it attacks that stimulus, thinking wrongly that it will relieve their suffering.
Ultimately, I think the danger right now would be to solely condemn or ostracize (the killer) in a similar way as he condemned those from HIAS & the synagogue, perpetuating more destruction instead of healing by being interested in the state of the killer’s mind and soul, and recognizing that his behavior, though unquestionably horrifying and unacceptable, is contributed largely by a culture of separation and fear of the unknown, that we are all responsible for creating. We are all connected, even to the ones we may despise. For my part, I will endeavor to push the boundaries of my empathy towards those against which I want to react, condemn, hate or destroy. My thoughts go out to all the families in mourning.
Do you think that your film is perfect timing for Pittsburgh, as Sacred Hair speaks about unity and unity is what is needed in Pittsburgh during this difficult time?
Yes, I do. The subject of the film is intimately linked to the events, by telling the story of how two diametrically opposed people, by age, sex, religion, can become one – How their walls of difference can fall. And to show that the most important part of humanity is our similarities. But we all need to participate in that calling because we are all responsible for each other. When we learn to care for each other’s suffering as if it was our own, we will prevent tragedies like this. That which is unfamiliar to Arthur peaks his curiosity and fuels him to better understand what he doesn’t comprehend, instead of slipping into the beginnings of prejudice. In RedCarpetCrash, Lavanya’s review of Sacred Hair says it well, «Religion, faith, food preferences, nationality, occupation, tends to divide us but the film shows the significance of communication and understanding. While the little boy refused to believe such misconceptions, he opens up with the Muslim lady and asks his questions», «Though we all have different reasons to follow or believe in certain things, we are ultimately united by the thread of humanity». (http://redcarpetcrash.com/short-film-review-sacred-hair/).
Sacred Hair reiterates the importance of educating our children and ourselves on the richness in all cultures.
As briefly mentioned, your film is due to screen at Pittsburgh Shorts Film Festival, are there any other film festivals that Sacred Hair will be playing at?
We’ve been shown in over twenty festivals worldwide thus far, and are privileged to be waiting to hear next month if we will be one of the lucky ones shortlisted for the Oscars. The next couple of competitions in which we’ll be screened after Pittsburgh on November 16th are the Rome Independent Film Festival on November 21st; and the All Lights India International Film Festival on December 1st.
What are your influences as a filmmaker?
I don’t think they flow from the usual industry places. I’ve always wanted to serve ideas that are grounded in reality and also, ideally, touch timeless, universal topics. Style wise I prefer to keep the camera invisible to ensure a seamless progression and process through the film, so that the audience can remain focused on and connected to the story. I began observing people at a very young age. From the moment my father first brought us on a cinema outing, to see Cool Hand Luke, I was in awe of the grandeur of the space and I kept peeking back at the audience to watch their reactions to what they were seeing on the big screen. It was the start of my passion with the impact that stories can have on people.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while making this film? And how did you overcome them?
The ball cap used to create the illusion of baldness worn by the main character Arthur, played by Matt Hébert, was no doubt one of the biggest challenges we faced. Given it took several hours to complete his makeup, I had to wake Matt up before dawn each morning. But because it ended up being quite cold during the shoot, by the days’ end, the ball-cap makeup ended up cracking around the edges and in the editing phase, on the big screen especially, it was very noticeable. I was extremely discouraged, and truth be told, I thought I would have to abandon completing the project, when at last, an old acquaintance, Benoit Touchette, Director of Special Effects of a major player in the North American industry, Mel’s VFX, generously offered up their special effects team to provide hundreds of man-hours, to, frame by frame, touch up those images in exchange of being able to use the “before and after” footage in their demo reel. They did an absolutely phenomenal job. We were blessed to receive this valuable service from Mel’s VFX for which I am endlessly grateful.
What message do you want people to take away from your film?
How the essence of seemingly diametrically opposed individuals is the same. I hope people who watch Sacred Hair come out recognizing that they gain so much by overcoming their own prejudices and biases towards people, beliefs, or values, and instead of ostracising them, create a connection. I also hope to demonstrate that the real richness of a life resides in us stepping in the unknown.
What projects are up next for you?
I am currently working on several projects – my second short and a feature film among others, and the creative ideas are constantly in development! With the precarious and uncertain funding from Canadian investors and arts Councils, I can’t be more specific for now.