Monday May 13, 2019 By: Alexandra Kinias
The Egyptian short film “Jebel Banat” (Girls’ Mountain) written and directed by Sharine Atif, won the Student Visionary Award at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. “Jebel Banat” is a tale of two Bedouin sisters who defied the tribal customs and traditions of their male-dominated nomadic community. Atif became intrigued by their story which she heard from the Bedouin guide on a hiking trip in the trails of the mountain, few years before shooting the film. According to the legend, in 1816, two sisters escaped forced marriages imposed on them by their traditions. They ran into the mountain terrain, braid their hair into one braid to tie their fate and jumped off the mountain, taking their own lives; because death was better than a forced matrimony. While the girls didn’t survive, their story lived to forever change the future of Bedouin women. “It made men in this Bedouin community to think twice before forcing their women into unwanted marriages,” Atif said in an interview with WoE.
Truth is stranger and often better than fiction and it is no coincidence best movies are based on real life events. The story of these girls lived with Atif through her years at California Institute of the Arts, CalArts, where she studied film directing. For her graduation project, Atif believed in the importance of bringing this story out. “The story is timeless and relatable. Women till this day are forced into marriages against their will. I was also impressed that in such a place and time young women were bold enough to escape for their freedom in spite of their fears. Fear of the unknown or being caught or not knowing how to survive. I also loved the period and location. Not many Egyptians know of the Egyptian Bedouin culture. The film gave me the opportunity to work in this magical place. I loved visiting and helping the community who suffered from lack of tourism and means to make a living,” she explained.
To bring the film to life, Atif faced challenges on multiple levels. First, she had to develop a 15 minutes long story from “literally” a two sentences legend. “I wanted to know the reason they ended their lives. Why were they scared of marriage? And so, I braided some traditional practices of marriage into the story. For the opening scene of the film, I portrayed a young woman returning back home one day after herding goats, to be cloaked and forced into a tent where she had to wait for her chosen husband, whom she had never seen before, and who would join her in the tent after the wedding ceremony ended, to consummate the marriage.”
Sharine arrived to Cairo from the USA mid-May, 2016, with only a seventh draft of a script and zero dollars. “I had just the summer to source funding, find my cast and crew, and shoot the film before September, to return to California Institute of the Arts, as the project was a thesis to graduate with an MFA in Film Directing,” she said in an interview with Geeks Media.
Adamant to shoot the film on actual location, she spent weeks in Sinai scouting the mountains with the help of the Bedouins whom she managed to build strong connections with. “It’s so hard to build trust with them and I feel honored they gave me access into their homes, and world. They shared everything they had and knew to help me make what I had in mind. The props on set, and costumes were real ones they saved from the 19th century. They were excited that I would bring their lost past back to life again as no one ever focused on them; their life and heritage.”
Actresses Sara Somaya Abed and Jala Hesham played the roles of the two sisters, but casting was also challenging. Atif needed two women who looked like sisters, “but also looked Bedouin, could adapt the Bedouin accent, live in tents in the desert for 10+ days and not get paid.” Not only the actresses didn’t get paid, but all crew and cast as well. With the tight budget, “this helped immensely,” said Atif.
The scenes were shot in altitudes higher than 2000 meters (1.3 miles) and Atif depended on the natural light, “since it was impossible to carry lights while hiking, plus, we didn’t have the budget for it, or the time.” They only had an electric generator to charge the cameras. The film crew lived for ten days in tents with no network coverage, no phones or internet. “It was very hot during the day and very cold at night. It was the hardest experience I went through in my creative career so far. Winning at TriBeCa was a huge milestone in my career and really paid off all the hard work,” says Afif.
Jebel Banat participated in several festivals. In 2018, it screened at Luxor African Film Festival; Shnit Worldwide Film Festival Cairo Playground where it won the Jury Special Mention Awad; Mediterranean Short Film Festival of Tangier Morocco; Short Film Corner Cannes Film Festival France. In 2019, it screened at Afrika Film Festival, Leuven, Belgium and TriBeCa Film Festival New York USA where it won the Student Visionary Award.
Sharine Atif graduated from CalArts in 2017 with an MFA in Film Directing. She is based in Cairo but arranging to relocate to New York in September. She is currently working on developing her first full length feature film. It explores the life of a young women who suffers from identity crisis and feels displaced for being born to an American mother and Egyptian father. She navigates Cairo and New York trying to find where she belongs.
Check Jebel Banat Facebook Page here
Watch trailer at Vimeo here
***If you liked this article, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and receive our articles by email.