Does the film take on a new lease of life for you as you watch other people have a relationship with it?
Yes, and people relate to it so differently. Because every person comes to the theatre with a certain frame of mind, different expectations and habits of watching films. Some people see it as a love story, some through a female gaze or as a diary on the world and politics. It’s a big film, it covers 12 years. So it’s really a different journey for every person in the audience. It doesn’t really change my relationship to it, but, at the risk of sounding dramatic, it changes my relationship to understanding cinema. Because it is very particular for every person, when they convey feedback or emotion after watching the film, everybody is certain that this is exactly how the film is seen, or experienced.
The film is three hours long, but it seems people’s attention spans are waning ever more…
Yeah, this is one of my obsessions, understanding how people relate and experience film. I would ask everybody, well, where did you watch the film? On your laptop, your mobile or a TV screen? If you have three hours to spare, go watch it in the cinema, it’s a really different experience.
What were your main motivations during the shooting process?
I need this to be an environment where I can help women thrive.
How can I put it in words? There is a tendency to classify the world into political and non-political, or, you know, liberal, left and right. Which is true, you can look at the world that way. I don’t see that. I find everything political, and I am a political creature. I think my motivation was that I’m going to make a film and for me that’s political and it’s personal. I can’t work on films that navigate worlds that I have no idea about. It’s not about knowledge – I am okay working with something unknowable. That doesn’t freak me out, on the contrary, but there has to be some kind of relevance, you need to be emotionally involved. I can’t do something I only intellectually care about. You have to have your own existence there.
How did you go about the editing process?
I really enjoyed the challenge of navigating the footage and looking for clues and evidence for the characters and story and the reading of your work. It’s like a big research project and I like research. My thoughts from the beginning were that because it is more personal than any other film I made before, I really need another editor to work with me. It has to be an equal partnership. I also needed a mature woman next to me.
I met Katja, I love the things she edited before, and we talked and clicked. She has the right balance between crazy and stable. And I need this to be an environment where I can help women thrive. We started discovering the footage and talking about the film and we would edit it in solo rooms then show each other. We developed a communication and understanding to analyse the characters because when we edit, each character is more or less in a linear narrative. We would discuss how we can really shake those characters so that they have a distinct role. We left my character until the end because it was the most difficult for both of us.
Was there an objectivity in the editing process which was different to a more subjective self when you were filming, especially something this personal?
You have to be present for your characters, these are not actors. Even if you know them and they trust you and you trust them. You have a responsibility as a creator, you’re dealing with human lives. You have to be present and sensitive about when to stop and what to do – whether your presence is too much or too little, you really have to be mindful. You need to direct a crew and give them inspiration and guidance and be open to their suggestions.
The film resonates as a personal video diary and the work of Jonas Mekas and Adam Curtis came
to mind for different reasons. Did you watch any other films as reference points?
When I’m editing I shut off, because as stupid or naïve and vulnerable as it might sound – if I don’t, I’m thinking, “oh, it’s not original”. And I don’t want to do that, questioning myself, did I steal it from someone? I cannot say I don’t watch films, but I don’t watch them in an investigative mode. So I’m most probably watching sitcoms, news and cooking tutorials. You know, what guided me actually was music. It is the only medicine that allows me to become a blender of thoughts and intellect and creativity. And also when I’m editing and filming, I listen to music.
What music in particular were you listening to?
It’s mostly classical music such as Bach and Mozart where I’m transcended somewhere else so I can follow my chain of thoughts. I also listen to old folk music and rap. It’s a variety. Concertos play a big role because it’s also what my father used to play, he had a very big imprint on me. He would wake us up on the week- end with a gramophone playing classical music. So for me, this is part of childhood, a feeling of home and protection, part of a family. It became a condition to feeling balanced. When I do this ritual, it’s calming.
There has to be some kind of relevance, you need to be emotionally involved. I can’t do something I only intellectually care about.
What has influenced your filmmaking practice?
I studied English literature, so I read a lot. Now I don’t have the concentration anymore. I read novels and autobiographies and Virginia Woolf. I liked the American stream of consciousness a lot, it really had a big influence on me. And translated ex-Soviet writers too. So it’s a mixture. I was born in a small country that has very little film production. So people who come from smaller countries would probably relate to what I say because we are of the generation that were bombarded with films from the US, France and Italy. When I was young, I told my parents I wanted to become an American movie-maker. Of course, I’m not in any way an American kind of filmmaker, per se. But I watched a lot of those old films, you know. I was watching a lot of Iranian cinema, and I think Italian cinema had a big influence on me.
Do you have any ideas for future work? Are you having a bit of a break or is it an ongoing process?
On one hand it’s somehow ongoing, on the other hand, every film is like a pregnancy, very odd. You really need to rest the body in between each. So now I’m doing the festival circuit. I think it’s very important for every filmmaker to go through the whole cycle from the early stages through to the end product. And then, I can feel a little bit bored and lost – what am I doing? I have to go there.
Diana El Jeiroudi is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, producer and promoter. As Creative Producer, she worked on films such as Oscar-nominated director Sara Ishaq’s The Mulberry House (IDFA 2013) and Silvered Water (Cannes 2014 – Grierson Award at BFI LFF 2014) by Ossama Mohammed. She is a co-founder and the director of DOX BOX, formerly an independent festival in Syria and currently a support organisation in Berlin for Arab World filmmakers.