ATM: What powerful dynamics do you see in the female lead character?
EH: You rarely see a film leader onscreen in a humbling way. In the sense that she is not constantly referred to her condition as a woman. I do find more situations more interesting with men and women equality. The urgency tends to level the problematic. These women have access to positions and authority. It is not about what is traditionally from a woman. It is about stepping up to the plate.
There is a scene that is inspired by the actual speech of the captain. She tells women, “Your presence alone here is a victory.” We rarely see this around women. This kind of leadership. I thought it was a great opportunity to show this side of the women. We women see a lot, but it does not get explained. I am thankful it is starting to change a lot with this generation of filmmakers. The way I grew up and how things are still looked as women have been sticking to what society expects of them. It is a way to groom women.
ATM: Is there a difference in a strategic way with how both women and men fight toward extremist?
EH: I heard a lot of anger from the women watching it and energy spinning from the anger. This is something I have learned to embrace like a woman in the last two years. It is broadening my horizon in feminism and intersexual feminism. There is a male author’s theory is that society cannot be a peaceful society without women treated equally. This has empowered Kurdish women. Kurdish women can embrace the anger of what is seen as masculine in Western societies. This is also from the African American feminist that I have read. It is something as a white-woman I get pushed back from the society that I live in. It is something that was intriguing and that I wanted to explore in the movie.
ATM: What information was given to you to help your deliverance with this ethnic group?
EH: I was sensitive to the fact that I am not Kurdish. The film is just a Kurdish. I follow American feminism very closely. I want to stay away from any mistakes. I know what people have done in the past. I surrounded myself with Kurdish all around the process during the writing and shooting time. I had them on the set every day to make sure I was not making any factual mishaps. I pushed for the idea that if I work hard and had people to help me then I would be faithful to the time these women had invested. The important thing was to tell a story about women. At the time, I was in East Yugoslavia while they were in the middle of the war. My producer was from the Middle East. She was a refugee and left when she was young. It was a collective endeavor.
ATM: What drove your thinking in the wrong perception?
EH: There is a journey for this story as well. My grandfather was a young soldier during the Spanish War. I have always grown up with the story of his annulment at 16. I grew up during the 90s when nothing happened politically in France. When I started reading about the women who wrote for democracy and identity, it resonated with my identity as a woman and my identity story. When I was started researching about the Kurdish conflict that happened about a thousand years ago – I realized there were a lot of common points with my own family story in communism and Marxism.
I did not feel I was far away from something that felt familiar. A lot of the work I did to tackle everything from the angle of being a woman and not being Kurdish, I tried to remain as individual as possible on this level. I tried to get the facts. It is a very complex conflict. It is a human story about a woman that goes through the most imaginable thing. We had the cultural backgrounds to make it possible to cross the bridge. It was better to make a few mistakes but do the work and show up. And engage in a conversation than get scared on the side of history and not do it.
ATM: What similar elements of Marxism did you see?
EH: My grandfather was Marxist. There is a lot of ideological contexts that are similar in fighting for an equal society. It is contrary to Catholicism. It is something that resonates with me. It is hard not to resonate with it in the West. Also, for me, ISIS is not so much about religion but fascism and patriarchal. In religion, there is this big progress just to keep on domination with the powerful man dominating; in this case, women.
ATM: How could you observe their means of survival and how did they treat it?
EH: I spent a lot of time talking to the women. I asked them very personal things like their hygiene. I asked things about their period and the meaning about it. I was specific in my research. I was trying to get as much information. These women were extremely straight forward and generous. They knew how important it was. Fiction can extract the story and make them more permanent. So, they become a part of the culture and things do not get lost. This is something that was shocking. The more I did the research I saw the lack of information we as women have about our struggle.
Men have written history books. Talking about the struggles of women in history books is sporadic. There is a change right now, but it is very recent. Who knows about the Russian women soldiers in 1942? Have you? I had not before working on the book. There is no movie about it. All of these things are important. I was discourage thinking we would not be able to pull this off. My producer carried on the torch and said we had to keep going. We could not let them down. We were going to find a solution, and she did.
ATM: Men in America write all the education. Most of the women who sought to make a change had the same and probably more courage, fearlessness, and dedication to seek change. See these stories are the ones that have and still get omitted. They get erased. You just named one story. But think about so many other women who made a change that we do not even know about.
EH: Of course. It is crazy. I have started this process in making myself get information about the history of women. There were a lot of website and blogs doing an amazing job. Women have been fighting for humanity and we do not even know about it. There is an amazing story about the Amazon Battalion in the 19th century. You had this famine of women who terrorized men because they were the best. Not that they were just women, but they were very skilled, protected, and in the higher kingdom. We must tell the story. I figured it felt right now to go there.
ATM: This strip little girls from knowing their identity. This is in America and all over the world. Knowing the women who walked this very ground they are walking on. Little girls are going to read, but they are reading male-dominated things. This film is a walking piece of literature. We do not need to look toward books or education because they omit elements. They do not have the things we need. It is kind of like a commercial. You get a quick snippet of the product or what is happening. But in a film, you get the rawness and more of the truth.
EH: I agree. There is a real long road ahead for us women. It can be discouraging. It is also a crazy and exciting time for women in storytelling. You have so many stories to embrace and show them. The masculine storytelling has hit a plateau at the moment. Love stories are by men but not all. We are in a scary time, but we have to step up to the plate.
ATM: They cannot omit what is happening now. They cannot omit your film. They can tear up pages of books and delete pieces of history. But a film? No, you cannot delete a movie.
EH: This is true.
ATM: This time will not get erased. There are so many people standing up for women and wanting their truth and stories to get documented. If they are not documented, then little girls will keep reading male dominating stories. They are basically cross identifying.
EH: Totally. I was surprised at one point of the research. I found that what I trying to do as a filmmaker was so little compared to what is needed to be done underground to help. I spent a lot of time reading James Baldwin last summer. He has this beautiful thought that he was not made to be a warrior. He was not made to be a leader of a movement. He was made differently. He was made to be a writer. He said one day we would be used to the world. As a creator, you must remind yourself of this. It is important to our culture as women that we share what is out there.
We share it in with our words and our experiences. We did not make the women behave like male soldiers. They just did not do this. They fight like women. Yes, the first thing in the morning they groomed and braided their hair. They had long hair and were proud. I was not going to do the American thing where you have a soldier yelling at the girl. This is not how it goes. I was happy to do this and derail the masculine narrative. To insert a more feminine narrative world.
ATM: War is everywhere. In some places, it is more dangerous. Like in Syria or Ukraine.
EH: There is a group on Facebook call Women in War. Did you know that I learned that 70% of victims in war conflicts are women, but what was presented at the time as men? In 1994, half a million were raped. It was not talked about in fiction. It is almost as if it did not exist. During the 2nd World War, the Japanese had 300,000 conflict women who were sex slaves. This is how its represented.
ATM: In some countries, the perception of war is different. Learning from the war in an international sense helps you to approach the war element. You get into other sub-genres such as race and gender. We should not just look at war from an American lens or lens from your own country. We need to look at it all over and dissect. You get into all the bullet points of the war. Most people do not know about the war in other places.
EH: This is true. It is a collective effort and it goes both ways. As women or individual should make the effort in trying to get the information and demand it. It cannot just be creators trying to convey this. People have to be curious.
ATM: I would assume this changed your perception of war. Researching has a way of changing your old viewpoint on something. It makes you more aware of what is happening and going on your society and in others.
EH: War is a very extract concept until you live it. When I had to go to Kurdistan, I had to go through a territory that was at war. I am a woman. I critically felt I was not welcomed in the public states. It was dangerous to go outside. Things could go South any minute. It is a very strange feeling. Physically it has changed me forever. I would never be able to brush it aside because this is what we do to survive psychologically. You cannot spend your day reading news about the war. It is not healthy. The only thing they want to be is at peace. The one thing I realized while growing up in France is that I took so much for granted. These were completely natural for me like walking the street and being completely free and careless.
Of course, there is public space and being a woman. The point is that you can walk in the street. I visited a country where I was the only woman on the street. I had to be covered from head to toe. I would get looks all the time. The second I came back to France; I realized the amount of luck I had been born and raised with as a woman in such a time to express myself as a woman. I can use my voice. I have beauty for a woman who cannot and all the woman who are coming behind me who do not get this chance. History is not in a straight light. Progress is not that visual. We are the gatekeepers.
I had been raised in a society that made me think it was very open, but it has a lot of sexist issues. France is a very sexist country. They do not like to admit it. I grew up integrating a lot of pressure and that I should not talk back to men. Their physical degree was superior to mine. If I were to get raped, then it was better to shut up and do nothing. It is more you do not hurt a man who is raping you because society finds his body more superior than yours. I had to destruct all these things. I did this do to the movie. In France, women are not brought up to help one another.
You are put into competition from a very young age. It is a cultural issue that I find disturbing. Men are groomed to help one another. These are things that have changed me forever. I am at the stage where I am quite angry by all the lies, I was fed and brought into about my suppose equality. All the things I thought I had easy access to. It was all bullshit. All complete bullshit that was fed by our entire society with a lot of women, especially white women. They have been very good at maintaining the privilege.
A lot of women find their own hearse in this system. They want to maintain staying equal. It is hard to destruct and accept that you have been part of the problem. Sometimes it is hard to accept because you have been raised like this. It is hard to go against what you know. It is a long journey. I am sure it is going to remain a journey to the day I die.
ATM: But wait it can be fixed before you die. I know this is the American thing always having hope. But it can. As a white woman such as yourself, a lot of stereotypes are put on you all. This is to cause a division to stop the change. It is like, “They are white and have the privilege.” You all go through problems also for the women.
ATM: It is more of my race, but not only my race. Your race has been stripped of their history too, but more on the white women side. People need to see this. It was kind of hidden. You grew up thinking you had equality. It is the same in America. Until you research and receive a culture shock you see your value and your true position in your country.
EH: I wish people would travel more. It is not hard to fight for like it is in other places. I was quite pessimistic about 6 to 8 months ago. There was a huge backlash waiting around the corner. The nomination of Capernaum received a huge drawn back for feminism. It felt that progress had been made with the film, but minimum. I am getting hopeful again. It is these constant conversations we have amongst women who are changing mentality from degree to another.
It is slow, but there is a movement. I am grateful to American feminism like African American and white women feminism. You guys are finding a way to make things happen despite discrepancy. This is a part of American history. It is not an easy one. Right now, we are fighting, and we need to fight.
ATM: There seems to be a difference with the approach and stance for American feminism compared to French Feminism. The growth of women seems similar but is different in terms of how they are brought up in their values.
EH: French feminism is extremely problematic. It is more than American feminism. We are behind on how society is extremely conservative. We have actresses that speak openly about the fact they are not feminists. We have actresses who protect sexual harassment because they have integrated their own oppression to hold back and they think it is normal. We are ten years behind. The one person I completely admire is Virginie Despentes who wrote King Kong Theory. She is saying the accounts of her theory as a writer.
It talks about her own rape and how this shielded her to fight for feminism. She is an incredible thinker. She sorts of talks about all the fight, and trauma we go through as women. We have to face it and be desensitized for it. She wrote about it six years ago. This was early compared to the time we are in now. I courage you to read her. I am embraced by American feminist than French feminist. French feminist did not even say a word around the movie.
EH: Not one. They did not do it towards the movie. There was no talk or social circle. It is a very strange thing that is going on in France. France is not an easy place to be now.
ATM: But you know you all are stereotyped as one of the most desirable and best places to be.
EH: Yes. You are right. Everyone is denying it. France is a tough one. We are a very depressing nation and it gets horrible after a while. I lived in the States for five years. American energy fed me a lot. It is the fact that until the day you die everything is possible. This way is different than the French way. French people are very pessimistic and upset. It gets to you. It is terrifying and it is not easy.