SUNDANCE Film Festival | 2019
Nominee Short Film Grand Jury Prize
Shorts Program 2
When a hardened Tunisian shepherd's son returns home after a long journey with a new wife, tension rises between father and son.
Hi Meryam thank you for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?
My pleasure! Yes, I’m very much looking forward to watching inspiring work and meeting inspiring people.
Tell me a little bit about Brotherhood, how did the film come about?
BROTHERHOOD tells the story of a Tunisian family grappling with a very difficult and complex situation when the eldest son returns home from Syria. The film revolves around the theme of communication, whether too much or too little is said and how this can have tragic repercussions in people's lives.
The journey of BROTHERHOOD started with a chance meeting in February 2016 with two red-haired Tunisian brothers, Malek and Chaker, who acted in the film. I ran into them during a road trip around the North of Tunisia. The two brothers were leading a flock of sheep across a lush green hillside when I spotted them. I had been aimlessly travelling for days and had a strong impulse to stop my car the moment I made eye contact with them. This chance encounter deeply marked me; the contrast of their unique faces filled with freckles against the green landscape, and I kept thinking of them.
The idea for the narrative came about when I learned that a neighbouring town Sejnan had experienced a surge of radicalization post the Tunisian revolution in 2011 that ousted the dictator Ben Ali. A higher than average percentage of men from Sejnan had gone to Syria. I knew I wanted to address this social issue through the intimate lens of one family and I also knew that I wanted the brothers to act in the film. So a year later, I went searching for them without knowing their names and where I had found them. I searched from village to village and finally landed on their doorstep with the script for BROTHERHOOD I convinced them and their younger brother Rayene to act in the film and from the experience learned the importance of following your instinct.
What does it mean to you to be at Sundance with Brotherhood?
It’s incredible honour and I really admire what the Sundance Institute stands for and the dedication it has to supporting both American and international independent storytellers.
As this is your U.S Premiere do you have any nerves ahead of a festival?
I’m feeling quite calm actually. I’ve worked extremely hard on bringing BROTHERHOOD to life and feel immensely proud of the work every member of the team contributed to its creation so I’m just excited to share it with more audiences.
I’m particularly looking forward to a screening of BROTHERHOOD at the Park City High School. The screening is part of a program created by the Sundance Institute to introduce local junior high and high school students to the art of independent film and provide opportunities to meet and interact with filmmakers. Programs like this mean a lot to me because as amazing as it is to share BROTHERHOOD with fellow cinephiles within the context of the festival, the opportunity to share the film with young minds in an educational setting is what truly inspires me.
"...never feel ‘lesser than’ anyone I encounter in life..."
BROTHERHOOD breaks a lot of stereotypes of the Arab/Muslim world so I feel that it is particularly important to share/discuss the film with young American minds.
Brotherhood is nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize, does this add any extra pressure on you?
A few years ago I would have felt an extra pressure. However, I’ve worked hard the last couple of years to confront my expectations and the pressure of ‘performing’ to external definitions of what success is. I realigned myself with what initially drew into filmmaking, which was the potential to challenge stereotypes and create bridges of empathy between different cultures and realities and this alleviated a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety in my life and work.
It’s been really rewarding to hold screenings in schools, community centers and a juvenile detention center because I witnessed the perspective of audiences shifting and broadening when it came to Arab/ Muslim families and how ISIS fighters can also be victims of the brutality they inflict. This experience has made me feel that the journey of BROTHERHOOD has been a success.
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Brotherhood to life?
The biggest challenge was the tough weather conditions during production. However, the strong winds and stormy weather ended up becoming a very important creative asset to the film, adding a layer of tension that worked in favour of the story.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I had always been attracted to visual arts as a kid and painted/ drew during my teenage years. I loved stories and would beg my grandmothers to repeat the folk tales of their childhood. Fast forward to high school where I took a video class by chance. It was the first time I held a video camera and the first time I saw filmmaking as a tangible profession. I fell in love immediately with the richness of the medium and how it is an intersection of so many mediums and interests. Most of all I loved the possibility of breaking barriers between realities and cultures and I dived in.
As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you?
Filmmaking cannot exist without collaboration so I value it very highly. I adamant about always trying to improve my communication skills because I want my collaborators to feel respected and inspired from the experience.
How much has your approach to your work changed since your debut film?
I’ve learned much more about my creative process, which is why the process of BROTHERHOOD was much less mentally draining than my previous films. With BROTHERHOOD I knew what conditions I needed to be able to the most creative and could confidently vocalize it to my collaborators.
Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?
One of the most important lessons my father taught me was to never feel ‘lesser than’ anyone I encounter in life and this is how I’ve always approached my career, especially as a woman from the Arab world- to project quiet confidence that can allow others to trust in my abilities. So my advice would be to trust in your abilities and most importantly trust in your instinct.
What are you currently working on?
I’m exploring the possibility of adapting BROTHERHOOD into a feature film.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
My hope is that BROTHERHOOD can humanize the Arab/ Muslim world to international audiences but also inspire audience members to have the difficult conversations within their own families that my characters failed to have.