Joyce A. Nashawati is presenting her opera prima, Blind Sun, at Sitges Film Festival. Born in Beirut and raised in Ghana, Kuwait and Greece, she studied in the United Kingdom and moved to France, where she is currently based. Her international background clearly influences this movie, where three different languages are spoken at all times. In it, Ashraf arrives to a villa in a hot and dry area of Greece, where he will have to fight both real threats and his own ghosts. In our conversation with this young director, we talk about the movie, its future and the presence of women in the movie industry.
How do you come up with the idea of Blind Sun, something different from what we have seen before?
I’ve always liked genre movies a lot, and that’s what I have been doing in my short movies. It’s more the mystery type of genre film, I like it when you are not sure if what happens is real or just a dream. I like to work from there. Bling Sun was mostly the desire to do something under hot weather and sun. Because when we have traditionally created fear, it has been at night. It’s a tradition in the cinema of Northern countries, like England, where you imagine mist and forest…
Yes! I wanted to adapt it to where I grew up, the coast near Athens and give it a Mediterranean feeling.
You were saying that you wanted to do something in day light. How do you create mystery in this atmosphere?
I think that tension can work both in day light and night, because tension depends also on the storyline. Here, you are in an open space and open spaces can make you feel dizzy; it also comes from the sensations of the character. He feels blinded. And I also used the heat, because we spend a lot of time with the main character, so I wanted for people to feel what he’s feeling physically.
That’s very interesting. How much of this is real and how much happens in Ashraf’s mind?
It kind of remains open.
Exactly. At the beginning everything feels real but after the bathtub scene you start wondering if he’s actually imagining it. Do you want to leave it open?
I like the idea of leaving it open because as a spectator, I really like movies that keep me questioning when I leave the theatre so, personally, I enjoy it. Not everyone enjoys it, some people actually gets angry, but that’s why I kept it open myself. At the end, there are some elements that can push you to think that it’s all in his head: when you hear scream of a child, the wife… But some people don’t hear them. It’s very much a question of desire, I think. When you are watching a film, if you don’t want to come out of the dream -or the nightmare- you do not hear.
It’s the viewer who feels it.
The viewer decides. Some people directly know -or think- that it’s in his mind, and some other people don’t hear anything and they say it’s all real.
Right. And what’s the role of the drought that Greece is going through in this movie? We see that they cannot use water… Is it because you wanted to add social issues to it or because of the heat we need to feel in order to empathize with Ashraf?
It’s a mix. I thought that since my themes are heat, water is a good way to relate the story to Greece today, but in a metaphorical sense. Because Greece is in a situation where they’re lacking essential things and, instead of using money, which would be a socially realistic way of presenting the current situation in Greece, I decided to use water to adapt that to my story.
Switching to you as a director, you grew up in different places. How did that affect you when you decided to become a filmmaker?
Ah, I never thought of that. I was thinking about it the other day, because someone asked me something similar to this, but when I was a kid I became a cinephile very early and I liked to watch movies all the time. I think the movie theatre kind of became my home, because I was travelling a lot. So, first of all, it helped me become a cinephile; maybe not a director, but a cinephile.
And how does it currently affect your movies? For instance in this movie they speak three different languages, which is not common for a film.
Yes. I think it did affect it. Being my first feature film, I probably put personal things in it even without noticing. It was after finishing it that I realized that, industry-wise, it is very complicated to make a movie where they speak different languages, but it made it personal for me, because I always lived surrounded by many languages at the same time. And I also found it contemporary, because now people are more and more like me. When I was a kid, it was rare, but now it is also a way to talk about how everyone is living. Like yourself, you live in the U.S. I’m in France… And also, because the story is also about someone lonely, the different languages help isolate him.
We read a couple of weeks ago that in the U.S a really short percentage of movie directors are women. Why do you think it is that there are so few women in the industry?
For some reason, I think that in France there are more movie directors. It might be because I notice them, because they are women, or maybe it’s true that there are more. Why it is happening is something that I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s something that we should think about.
So, do you think that in Europe it’s a different story?
The thing is, I may be biased by the fact that I’m a girl. Therefore, I know girls who make movies, I meet them and we talk about movie making… But I would really like to know the percentage, maybe it’s lower and I just don’t feel it this way.
We’ll definitely try to find out. What do you think we could do to change this tendency and bring more women into filmmaking? Do you think that something could be done within the industry?
That’s a difficult question. It’s such an important issue that I’m just afraid to say clichés. I could say, is it because men think that women cannot make movies? Can that possibly be the question? Are there more men who are producers? Either way, there is something I have noticed in France. Men have greater budgets. Is it because men are more comfortable working together? At the end of the day, we just need to really fight to make movies and encourage younger girls. I know that I may be more shy that my male equivalents so if I see that there’s a young timid girl that wants to make movies I need to push her.
This has been your first time presenting a feature movie in Sitges. How has the experience been so far?
That’s also a tough question. I really like being here because it’s a festival that I enjoy coming to, to watch films. I like what they select. For the film itself, I wanted to meet more people to talk about it. And I didn’t, probably because I did not stay at the end of the screening. I should have probably done that to talk to people and share. But I think it’s a good starting point.
Last but not least, what’s your distribution strategy for the movie?
We’re sending it to many festivals. I already have distribution deals in France and Greece, the two main countries. But we don’t have a sales agent yet, so we don’t know what will happen in other countries. Maybe film festivals will help us find some.
I’m sure they will. Thank you so much for your time!