Modern Love in an Ancient World

An interview with Sharif El Ramly, scriptwriter of The Bride of the Nile

by Shosha Adie

People have been documenting Egyptian history for thousands of years through a myriad of different mediums, from papyrus to film. However, the most enduring feature of this human experience must be romance. Directed by Edouard Mills-Affif, The Bride of the Nile doesn’t give us the fairy tale ending we have grown to expect but something much more moving; the reality of love for millions of women around the world.

Heba is the quiet heroine of this story, a young Egyptian who, like many before her, is destined to marry a man that she barely knows. She had originally been betrothed to another, the charming Ahmed who was her first love, but this family arrangement fell apart suddenly and with dramatic consequences. The film follows her uncle’s relentless attempts to persuade her to follow her heart, and to understand what structures are in place that will not allow her to do so.

“This film is about separations,” Sharif El Ramly, the concerned uncle and filmmaker, tells me, “It is a movie about the big absent that is love.”

El Ramley’s own journey for love took him to France, where he divorced his first partner and now lives with his current wife. When he finished his degree in journalism he was faced with the problem of being “a French journalist in France… when not French or from France”. This struggle for translation threw him into the world of cinema and of Mills-Affif, the mentor of his first thesis, who later became the best man at his wedding.

What he wanted to show in his collaboration with Mills-Affif on this film, was that in Egypt “It is money which rules this situation. Not love”. He tells me that “Marriage is a family affair, a family business and not a personal story”

In order to capture this story the film duo had to work under the government radar, as they knew getting the authorisation to film in the marginalised countryside would have been near impossible.

In one particular instance, they even got their camera confiscated at customs, having to film the final parts of the film on a cheap DSLR camera they had picked up in Cairo. But not only did they have to work in secret from the outside, they had to make sure no-one on the inside got their hands on the footage because not even the family knew the whole story about the affair.

Sex, love and marriage are volatile topics in Egypt today, but instead of shying away from these controversial topics, The Bride of the Nile explores them with an authenticity and intimacy that is a rare sight in cinema today.

El Ramly has always been concerned with justice, the asymmetrical treatment of young women in Egyptian society being an issue close to his heart. “You start to think, this is just against nature. Even against Islamic religion, because Islamic religion invites people to get to know each other, it invites culture to co-live with one another. The extremists always try and separate society, poor from rich, capitalist from socialist but also the genders.”

His fight to bring the contemporary problems that Egypt faces into the foreground continues with his next project, a documentary on how Egyptian communities in France perceive the upheaval in their homeland and whether tradition really is as impenetrable as it seems.

THE BRIDE OF THE NILE is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Thursday 30 March, 9:00 AM
Information and tickets here

Socotra, the Island of Djinns

An interview with Jordi Esteva, director of Socotra, The Island of Djinns

by Edoardo Lomi

Socotra: The Island of Djinns (2016) opens a window onto a changing world, whose isolation the film both reveals and dispels.

Travelling to Socotra, says Esteva, “almost feels like travelling back in time.” Shepherds and gatherers have inhabited the caves of this island, located in a remote part of the Arabian Sea, for hundreds of years now. There, sitting by the light of hand-started fires, myths and stories of djinn (spirits) possessions are still being retold in the Socotrian language.

The film surveys the island and its myths, with an attentive eye and a rhythm that strives less for narrative consistency than, as Esteva notes, to let “the people speak for themselves.” Doing so might prove especially valuable: Socotrian has an exclusively oral tradition, and as Esteva explains, “the young people don’t speak it purely anymore…it’s mixed with lots of words in Arabic.” As Esteva recalls a Russian anthropologists pointing out once, this may be “the first and last film to be filmed in Socotrian.”

Socotra, the Island of Djinns may then represent a unique linguistic and cultural testimony. Esteva comments, “I’m kind of specialized in vanishing worlds—worlds that are disappearing very quickly to globalisation.” Having also published a book on Socotra in 2011, Esteva travelled to the island several times over the past decade, establishing deep relations with the local inhabitants and evolving a fascination for their stories and their home: “Socotra is so beautifully strange, with an amazing vegetation, it almost feels like a dream, with no boats in the sea, no lights, no planes in the sky.”

Esteva’s choice of filming in black and white is poetic without romanticising. As the author notes, “the island is beautiful, but I didn’t want to depict this. I wanted to go straight to the soul of the people, to the myths, the legends by the fire—for me colour would have been a distraction.”

If Socotra, the Island of Djinns speaks on the one hand of an archaic human experience, the film also evokes in its maker memories and dreams of a turbulent childhood. Growing up in Spain under the Francoist regime, Esteva used to spend hours dreaming the far-away lands he read of in his father’s books: Samarkand, Timbuktu…. One day, his finger stopped a spinning globe on a tiny spot in the Indian Ocean—Socotra. The scant literature on the island rose Esteva’s curiosity and wonder.

Decades later, in doing research for his book Los árabes del mar (The Arabs of the sea), Esteva talked with many Arab sailors and merchants who told him about the mysterious island. “For them Socotra was a very dangerous place,” says Esteva, “were magicians lived, and they were afraid to approach the island…there is also a geographical reason for that; the Arabs used to sail with the monsoon—what brought them to Zanzibar and faraway places. But Socotra has no natural harbors, and to approach it in Monsoon times meant death.”

Esteva would eventually meet the opportunity to travel to Socotra with the help of none another than the son of the late Sultan of the island. The sporadic commercial flights from Yemen allowed Esteva to reach Socotra; his serendipitous friendship in turn allowed him to cross the tribal boundaries of the island and, eventually, follow his childhood fantasy to its anthropological end.

Socotra, the Island of Djinns emerges from this long and personal journey. Whilst it intimately participates in the listening and documenting of local stories, the film weaves these with the poetry of biographic memory and a passion for making the strangely beautiful, familiar.

Socotra, the Island of Djinns is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Thursday 30 March, 9:00 AM
Information and tickets here

The Archipelago

An interview with Benjamin Huguet, director of THE ARCHIPELAGO
by Edoardo Lomi

Benjamin Huguet’s film The Archipelago (2016) presents a day in the life of the whole history of the Faraoe islands. A small place in a sea of change, this archipelago between Iceland and Norway is known for its impressive volcanic landscapes, its immaculate green shores, as well as the whale-hunting practices that yearly bathe them in blood. Regulated by local authorities through a system developed over more than seven hundred years, the hunt for pilot whales has in recent years attracted much attention from environmentalists worldwide, concerned over the ethics and sustainability of the practice.

Without either sensationalizing or taking any overt political stance re the violence inherent in whaling, the French filmmaker draws an anthropologically attentive and visually potent portrait of an evolving phenomenon at the heart of Faraose life.

Several factors drew Huguet to the Faraoe. As he put it, “whale hunting kind of makes sense when you look at my prior filmography,” which in many ways deals with “matters of natural resources and how people connect with their cultural identity.” Huguet has previously made films in Palestine about harvesting olives as a way into investigating the Palestinian conflict, on a power plant in Kosovo, and onion culture in France.

The Faraoe also captivated Huguet for their similarities, cultural and geographic, with his home in Brittany. But Huguet’s true inspiration for a film on whale hunting came from engaging the topic in both fiction and academic literature: Moby Dick provided Huguet with a unique artistic drive. At the same time, anthropologists who have conducted studies in the Faraoe provided him with local contacts, helping Huguet to find the future characters of the film.

Among these, environmentalists campaigning against whaling confronted Huguet with key ethical decisions: “one thing we discussed (during the editing) is to not get into any argument, avoid arguments as much as possible. All characters you see, I interviewed them, asking them how do they justify what they do, obvious questions you know. But it’s a very tricky thing for them to do (justify themselves). They don’t intellectualise if you see what I mean… it would be like a Hindu for whom the cow is a sacred animal. Why are we still eating cow? What do we “mean” by that? These are difficult questions to justify for us too.”

Huguet frames whaling as a culturally rooted behaviour, accepted as natural by those who practice them. But the film also refrains from simple moral relativism. The arguments of environmentalists from the Sea Shepherd Society—of which Huguet traces the making—seemed for him to rest more on ideological premises than any empirical evidence regarding the unsustainability of whaling itself.

“It’s not a film about if you should or should not hunt, and this (stance) overall fits with my approach to filmmaking. I don’t think of film as an aesthetic medium, it is not the best place to build an argument.”

The film instead tells the stories often missed by moralising critiques. What threatens the endurance of the Faraoese centenary traditions, more than environmentalists, appears to be technological change, and the incorporation of the archipelago into a market economy that makes meat readily available in supermarkets.

Huguet was trained in Paris in the EHESS Department of Visual Anthropology founded by Jean Rouch; his influence on The Archipelago can be glimpsed, together with that of Canadian filmmaker Pierre Perrault, at in the seamless camera movements, in the desire to capture “something that existed there, at that time,” as Huguet notes, combined with a willingness to take personal and daring initiatives, such as jumping in the cold water during the whale-hunt.

The Archipelago demonstrates a keen ability for expressing complex and multi-layered phenomena in a simple and highly sensible way—making Huguet as much a visual anthropologist as a filmmaker.

THE ARCHIPELAGO is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on FRIDAY 31 March, 1:30 PM
Information and tickets here

From Snow to Sand: Kamerling on Capturing Change

An interview with Leonard Kamerling, co-director of CHANGA REVISITED

By Shosha Adie

“This was not just a story about Africa, Africans and the Maasai. It was a story about the indigenous people all over the world…”

— Len Kamerling, producer of numerous award winning films, co-director of ‘Changa Revisited’ and curator of film at the University of Alaska Museum. —

Filmed in the dusty grasslands of Tanzania, Changa revisited draws on an experimental and dynamic form of cinema that combines both the past and present by marrying traditional ethnographic methods with film and photography. What this offers, as described by co-director Leonard Kamerling, is “The ability to enter the world of a culture, not just to see the physical landscape but the emotional landscape.”

Our host, the compelling Toreto ole Koisegne, is first introduced to us as a boy in black and white, and then reintroduced to us in the colours of his new world. A world, that we learn, is a mere shadow of the dreams from his youth. The 600 cattle he’d tended in his father’s times have been reduced to 20, representing not only Tanzania’s precipitous economic decline but a loss of the famous Maasai solidarity and pride. For Kamerling, the award-winning filmmaker of Uksuum Cauyai: the drums of winter “The things that we saw there, the loss of traditional livelihood… the urban migration of young people to cities and the breaking of these family bonds… these are things that are happening all over the world to indigenous people. It so reflected my experience in Alaska, that I knew this was a very important film to make.”

The collaborative work of both Kamerling and skilled director Peter Biella grants us not only a window into this family’s struggle to survive, but an intimate view into the ultimate human struggle of maintaining hope in the face of an uncertain future.

Kamerling fondly reminisces on the process of making Changa Revisited as the most “high creative moment” in his career. Despite the directors intending to collaborate soon after they met in 1979, when Peter Biella was a graduate student about to embark on his dissertation in East Africa, they faced major drawbacks with funding. Nonetheless, in the 80s, Biella returned home from his research with thousands of invaluable snapshots of the Maasai daily life as it once was, preserved in 16mm film and tape. This meant that in 2009 not only did the directors have the money, they had 6000 vignettes from that same family’s past and the power to bring distant memories back to life.

Being a filmmaker, Biella had also recorded the missing sounds that accompanied his footage, and “Fast forward 30 years” we have Changa Revisited. “They’re not the typical style of photographs that are in a Ken Burns documentary, but rather a third thing,” I am told by Kamerling. “They’re photographs that are used to make a kind of cinema that is not film or photography, but instead a mixture of both.”

As you can imagine, Biella’s long history with the family and their struggles made it very difficult to select what would be used from this vast archive. On top of this, they were dealing with very sensitive and current issues which Kamerling emphasises are important to recognise.

“Alcoholism was definitely there, and a huge issue…In Alaska the struggle with alcohol it has been a long one. I think in Tanzania it is a similar thing, when one’s traditional livelihood and the options for making a living are reduced. and with a kind of loss of self-esteem and control something comes in to fill that vacuum. We decided in the film that we would talk about it but not explore it deeper and certainly not show people in the film drunk or behaving in that way because it’s… a drunk person can’t give you informed consent.”

Kamerling wants to use this story to highlight the unexpected consequences of the decisions that governments make, which affect people’s lives in ways that it’s hard to imagine. He talks about this in a wider context of the uncertainties facing the world now, such as Brexit within Europe, but predominantly the rise of Trump in America over which, he cautiously adds “most people, are quite alarmed”. In Tanzania, after independence from Britain, the first government set out to restrict the Maasai from being pastoralists by forcing them to settle in permanent villages. This move set off a domino effect which eventually lead to their life of plenteousness becoming one of poverty.

He tells me: “This is not journalism, where we are trying to present two sides of an argument, it’s not teaching where we are trying to present information. We are trying to find these rare moments of cultural intimacy that tell you something universal about the culture.” Here Kamerling discusses how their close dynamic as a team, notably the insight of editor Daniel Chein, and with the family in question made sure the film went in the right direction.

“Toreto is such a charming guy, and he’s so open. People need, and like him, are drawn to him… and then you find out about these other things and you switch your allegiance. We hope by the end of the film people have rehabilitated him. You see his struggle and how difficult it’s been. He’s trying to survive in a world that he has no control over.”

CHANGA REVISITED is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Thursday 30 March, 11:45 AM
Information and tickets here

Memory and Migration: Lampedusa in Winter

An interview with Jakob Brossmann, director of LAMPEDUSA IN WINTER

By Samantha Dunn

‘Being a witness of the deadly European border policy and how to live with that, and how it influences people that are confronted with it all the time- that was kind of the question’

Situated between Italy and North Africa, the image of Lampedusa in the media is predominantly as a no-man’s land, in which the immigrants and citizens of Lampedusa are forced to co-exist in a fragile equilibrium, competing for space and resources. Austrian filmmaker Jakob Brossmann focuses his lens upon the island of Lampedusa over the winter months in his film, Lampedusa in Winter, observing both citizens and refugees alike and the issues they face on the periphery.

Brossmann’s thoughts on refuge and migration, and in particular Austrian history, led him to casting his gaze upon the tiny island of Lampedusa. The director recalls how it was the story of Jewish Austrians trying to flee Austria or the so-called Third Reich in the 1940s who had been pushed back, despite already reaching Switzerland, which influenced a previous project- a screenplay about people being rejected on the Swiss border. This influenced his filmic concern with Lampedusa:

“I realised the question I was dealing with before was very much current today. It was 2011, many people in Austria hadn’t seen refugees in years. Lampedusa made me realise that those questions are very much up to date, questions in our present.”

The events of 3rd October- where 365 migrants drowned off the island of Lampedusa, is present in the films narrative, but is not the focus of Brossmann’s film. The filmmaker is quick to mention that this tragedy was not the first, or the biggest, but rather ‘just one terrible tragedy in a long row of terrible tragedies’. These events, he adds, bring a very intense media coverage, with an inordinate amount of attention being given to the same image, which is the picture of the migrant boat, “the over –crowded migrant boat coming towards the camera”. This led the filmmaker to wondering what lay behind the camera, an interest in examining the “not so spectacular things”.

Visually and thematically, Lampedusa in Winter conveys a sense of stagnation, of listlessness, of people in a state of stasis. However, it is also a portrayal of compassion, of strength and of resilience, which gives refugees and the people of Lampedusa a voice. The director tells me how he wanted to show the refugees and the citizens of Lampedusa as “speaking, questioning and political subjects” not simply as victims, which he adds, is not always an easy task. Nonetheless, this is the image that filmmaker Brossman conveys in his film, choosing to focus upon the intense encounter between migrants and citizens of Lampedusa as a witness to the genuine solidarity between the subjects of his film.

The citizens of Lampedusa’s own realities and struggles are observed, with a radio station, a youth football team, and crucially the ferry which connects the island with the mainland providing a narrative and backdrop of daily existence. I questioned Brossman about the role of the ferry in the film and its function, which seemed so strikingly symbolic:

“We got lucky it was such a strong symbol, because I knew before shooting that Lampedusa has a lot of structural problems- the schools, the water, the garbage, transportation […] a lot of things. I was quite sure that something would happen that would show us this relation and struggle of Lampedusa as an island, as a marginalised, forgotten outpost somewhere.”

These sequences are juxtaposed against the refugees’ struggles to move on from the island and secure basic human conditions, whilst they are there. The intention of Brossmann, in examining the plight of refugees alongside the pressures placed upon the citizens of Lampedusa, does not detract from what he says to be the real focus of his film, where “the main victims of the crisis are of course the refugees, but at the same time, in my opinion, it is very important, to look at the lives of the European people and what they suffer from […] Sometimes I feel like Lampedusane people and refugees are like very unequal siblings. The tension is very unequally distributed, and the picture of both in the Italian media is not very precise”.
Lampedusa in Winter is an important film, which deals with a subject matter that has arguably never been more pertinent.

Transcending the borders of Lampedusa, this film is situated within a wider narrative of immigration, with issues that are more than simply European, issues of marginalisation, of borders and of solidarity.

The story of Lampedusa is a drop in the oceanic pool of immigrant stories that are crying out to be heard, with concerns that mirror the situation of countless undocumented migrants all around the world who live in a state of uncertainty.

LAMPEDUSA IN WINTER is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Friday 31 March, 9:15 AM
Information and tickets here

Exploring Poverty through Personal Hygiene

An interview with Stefania Bona and Francesca Scalisi, directors of BATH PEOPLE

By Charlotte Harding

Six years ago, filmmaker Stefania Bona stumbled upon a hidden architectural gem on the streets of Turin, Italy. “It was like an abstract vision,” says Bona of the fateful sighting, “it was a very grey and cloudy day, and I saw a group of Roma travellers in colourful dress noisily entering an apparently abandoned building, with a big red neon sign that read ‘bagni’.”

In that moment Bona realised that the red-bricked structure was in fact the last public bath house in the industrial city, and from that point onwards she was eager to learn more about those who frequented and worked within the faded establishment.

Enlisting the help and energy of fellow filmmaker, Francesca Scalisi, the duo set out to make Bath House, a film that highlights the unassuming conflict boiling inside the public facility’s crumbling facades, depicting the beauty and care regimes of the economically vulnerable lower class using its services, with honesty and integrity; “I fell in love with the place,” Bona explains, “it gathered all the feelings I wanted to convey and gave us a chance to explore the issue of poverty in a more intimate way.”

Turin, like many other cities across Europe, is plagued with issues of poverty and social exclusion. Alongside this, the current influx of immigrants and refugees has taken a heavy toll on the region, causing xenophobic tensions to intensify between those entering Turin searching for a better life, and its long-standing residents.

“Since the economic crisis, a lot of people have fallen into a drastically lower condition of living and lost their jobs,” explains Bona, whose own worsening economic difficulties meant she held a personal connection to these issues. “I’ve always been interested in telling invisible people stories, and I felt if I had experienced bad luck I could have easily been in the same situation as those visiting the baths.”

As they filmed, Scalisi and Bona started to unearth the intricate complexities of the lives led by the many people that pass in and out of the bath house’s doors. “When we started to engage with the reality of the place, we understood that it wasn’t fair to depict just this slice of the population,” says Scalisi. “The baths were in fact a microcosm richer than that, collecting and connecting so many different people, stories, cultures and classes. It became a metaphor for the purification from all the struggles and injustice of this world.”

“It was an intense experience, consisting of very difficult days and others very positive, full of exciting encounters and stimulating conversations,” Bona describes of the long journey to capture the bath’s inhabitants. “The best moments were all the encounters we had with people who trusted and opened themselves up to us. Speaking on the lasting impression they would like Bath People to leave, both unanimously advocate the bath house as a place for community engagement, as a space with a unique ability to break down the societal barriers between cultures and classes; “it is a precious place, a human and urban habitat that has to be protected, always at risk of fading away just like the people who pass by.”

BATH PEOPLE is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Saturday 1 April, 3:30 PM
Information and tickets here

COMING BACK FROM THE DEAD

An interview with Alejandro Fernández Mouján, director of DAMIANA KRYYGI

By Samantha Dunn

Alejandro Fernández Mouján is an Argentine filmmaker who alongside his wife, anthropologist Susana Margulies, decided to follow the restoration of the remains of an indigenous Aché girl to her community, one hundred years after her death.
Director Fernández Mouján explores the genocide of the Aché people, an indigenous community from Paraguay through an individual narrative, and the way in which the past still haunts the present. The film unravels the sad story of a young Aché girl taken away from her community to be studied by anthropologists and ethnographers, and follows the restitution of her remains to the present day Aché.
The intention of Mouján, in filming and presenting the story of Damiana Kryygi, was to restore her as a human being, “not as an object of study, but as a human being…as a girl”. The significance of Damiana Kryygi for Mouján, is in what, or who, she represents. As the first dead Aché person to return to her community “she represents all the Aché that didn’t come back”.
What is glaringly, perhaps even discomfortingly, obvious for the viewer, is the way in which Damiana Kryygi highlights the exploitative side of Anthropology. An issue which the filmmaker was very aware of, noting, when I asked him about this, that it was very difficult for him in the beginning. In particular the question of how to treat the photograph of Damiana Kryygi, exposed and naked, was an important one. He stresses: “I didn’t want to repeat the same humiliation one hundred years afterwards”.
The focus on the photographic image of Damiana Kryygi, where she is portrayed nude, is at the forefront of the film. However what interested and guided Mouján, he tells me, is what was on the other side of this photograph:
“For me the main thing that guided me through this film was the questions ‘who were these anthropologists. Who were these anthropologists who were looking at her?’”
In a deliberate attempt at not repeating the same mistakes of the past, Mouján spent time building up trust with the Aché people, “I tried to always be clear with my intentions, what I was looking for, what I was asking them for”. Mouján tells me how the first time the filmmakers went to the restitution ceremony in Paraguay they were not allowed to witness her burial. However, when the second burial took place, they had visited the community many times and the Aché people could see they were truly involved with the story and with Damiana, and they were then invited to attend”.
In this way, Damiana Kryygi ceases to be solely an object of study, further anthropological material, and is rather treated in a way that restores her humanity and gives her an identity. Mouján’s film humanises Damiana Kryygi, who becomes more human in death than when she was alive. Importantly the visual medium of film gives her, and all of the Aché people who remain lost, a means of being remembered.
Whilst focusing on the suffering of the Aché people, Damiana Kryygi broaches issues that are pertinent to many other indigenous communities in Latin America, in regards to their exploitation following the Spanish colonisation. And though the focus is on one individual, the film screened in many countries across Latin America, where the director came across many individuals, particularly women, who identified with Damiana Kryygi and her story.
An observational exposé of the injustices of the past and present and the righting of wrongs, Mouján’s humanistic mission is at the core of Damiana Kryygi. Mouján describes his film above all as an “emblematic story of colonialism, and how the anthropological science has worked with colonialism”.

DAMIANA KRYYGI is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Thursday 30 March, 01:30 PM
Information and tickets here

HOW TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT SEX WORKERS WHO DO NOT WANT TO BE SEEN

AN INTERVIEW WITH NICOLA MAI, DIRECTOR OF “TRAVEL”

By Charlotte Harding

Nicola Mai has solved somewhat of an ethical conundrum with his latest film Travel. A sociologist, ethnographer and filmmaker, Mai is dedicated to analysing the experiences and representations of migrants working in the global sex industry. But when it came to turning his original research findings into film form, Mai faced opening a can of worms full of complex problems: how do you make a film about sex workers who do not want to be seen or exposed?

“I wanted to talk about migration and the tension between self-realisation and expectation throughout the migration journey,” explains Mai. “The ethics of this put a restraint on the visibility of sex workers, because of the harsh stigma they are subjected to. At the same time, I wanted them to be included, however the other ethical constraint I had was that I never wanted to reproduce a voyeuristic approach, which is often associated with sex work.”

Mai eventually found a way to overcome these challenges, through experimental ethnofiction; a visual approach that draws on participants’ willingness to discuss and realise their existence through improvised enactments within a fictive framework. “I wanted to use ethnofiction to record particular salient moments of ethnographic observations that I could not possibly reproduce by filming them as they happened,” he says.

“I had the privilege of being in a private setting with people who are confident enough to tell me their stories directly in a language that is uncensored, through a rapport of empathy that I’ve built throughout the years, so I found in ethnofiction a possibility to project and protect their identities, enabling their participation without exposure, because they never actually had to feel under pressure to reveal.”

Working with L’Association Les Amis du Bus des Femmes, an association dedicated to protecting the rights of sex workers in Paris, Mai collaborated with 8 Nigerian women through workshops aimed at creating the fictional character of ‘Joy’; the embodiment of the group’s own collective experiences. Using multiple actors as Joy to embody the lives of these real women, Mai took his approach a step further, with some of the women who wrote the film also acting as Joy; “that was a mechanism we found to protect their identities again,” says Mai, “because nobody can say who is one of the real sex workers and who is an actor, so that is a way to enhance their participation.”

The resulting process was a great adventure for Mai, and describing the biggest reward he received from the process, he cites the women’s reaction to viewing Travel for the first time; “they felt I was able to express everything they wanted to say, so that was for me the most important validation. As an anthropologist that’s all you want, to be able to express the voices of the people you worked with.”

While Mai focuses on the ambivalent dynamics of exploitation these women have faced, he hopes the lasting impression is one of agency. “What I want people to be left with is a sense of agency of these women, as the debate around the sex industry particularly when it concerns African women tends to stereotypically reproduce a vision of victimhood and passivity,” he explains.

“We have to accept that sometimes the decisions sex workers take are not those that we would take, we need to acknowledge that they express some will and decision. These women are very resilient and strong, so I wanted people to understand and feel the complexity of women’s circumstance ¬, I want the audience to leave the cinema with a sense of the intricacy of freedom and how it is contextualised – people can express their agency and freedom by complying to the forces that dominate their lives, as well as resisting them.”

TRAVEL is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Saturday 01 April, 11:20 AM
Information and tickets here