Jose Maria de Tavira as "Javier" and Elodie Bouchez as "Asya" in THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE, directed by Zeina Durra. Photo Credit: Magela Crosignani. A Sundance Selects Release.
- Rami Makhzoumi
- Matthew Chausse
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The Imperialists Are Still Alive! (2010/2011)
Opened: 04/15/2011 Limited
|IFC Center||04/15/2011 - 04/21/2011||7 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
Genre: Drama (English)
A successful visual artist working in post-9/11 Manhattan, Asya lives the life of the hip and glamorous, replete with exclusive art parties, supermodels, and stretch limousines while she carefully follows the situation in the Middle East on television. Asya learns that her childhood friend, Faisal, has disappeared--the victim of a purported CIA abduction. That same night, she meets Javier, a sexy Mexican PhD student, and romance blossoms. Javier finds Asya's conspiracy theories overly paranoid--but nothing in Asya's world is as it seems. Asya's life is reflective of the themes of cultural fusion, and the complications and humor that arise simultaneously out of everyday life.
Zeina Durra's atmospheric debut feature is an alluring and intelligent look at the way the war on terror seeps into the texture of everyday American life. Gorgeous 16 mm grain imbues the film with an anachronistic feel that interestingly evokes times past. The Imperialists Are Still Alive! is an exceptional work and heralds the arrival of Durra as an exciting new directorial talent.
Q&A WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR ZEINA DURRA
How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
My main goal was to tell a story from a perspective which hasn't been seen or expressed before on film. This is partly because many people don't believe that these type of characters actually exist (which makes it hard for a film like this to be made) and also because we are the first generation from the Middle East like this. We're the Diaspora, whose families left the region, in large numbers, due to political instability there. We were born and grew up in Europe or America. We are just now coming into our voices and reaching an age where we able to express this experience.
I wanted to tell the story of a woman who is of predominately Arab descent brought up in Europe, living in New York City, in the way that I see her. She is not estranged from the Middle East or an outsider in Paris or New York. She navigates all these spaces with familiarity and confidence. The idea that Arabs or Moslems brought up in the West find themselves constantly torn between their roots and their "Western lives" has always annoyed me since I have never related to that conflict. The milieu in which I grew up produced a different type of person: a wanderer, who views the world as their home and all the things that other people may view as contradictions are simply normality for them. As a result the "contradictions" in their lives are synthesized into a new experience.
How did your personal history influence the direction of this movie?
I was born and brought up in London. I came to New York to go do the graduate filmmaking program at NYU and stayed in the city to make this film. I grew up in a television news family and so cameras and film were always around. I've always been driven to get the "other" point of view since I was a young child; this probably stems from the fact that I have parents who come from rather misunderstood, tragic parts of the world (my mother's Bosnian/Palestinian and my father's Jordanian/Lebanese). Growing up in London, I've always been put into situations where I had to explain or defend myself from a very early age. Perhaps, I saw how frustrated my father was with censorship of the media and thought that you could perhaps get your point across more in fiction
How did you develop your ideas into this script?
There are two main things that affect you when you're related to the Middle East and living outside of it. The first is the threat of being suspected of being some sort of extremist, and the second is the ongoing political instability over there: being affected by war in countries where you have family and friends and the destruction of places you know and love. These things are always present and something anyone from a Middle Eastern intelligentsia background would have grown up with. They are representative of our experience. That's why I chose to have these two political incidents within the framework of my film.
The story wove itself from here, with me juxtaposing scenes from daily life and then weaving in these two political layers. The scenes from daily life come from the way in which I see the world and the things that interest me - subjects such as class, the circles I was moving in in New York, and how the city itself functions. The love story was important for me because it's through falling in love with someone that you often see things about yourself that otherwise go unquestioned. It was a good way to show Asya's make up.
I also chose a Latin American character since the type of issues with the Middle East also tie in with the type of issues of countries like Mexico. I've found that Mexicans are often treated with the same disdain that Arabs are in the US, so it was interesting to play with two characters coming from privilege who find themselves in a country where they are discriminated against. It's this idea of identity that I liked playing with in their relationship and the unspoken empathy they could have for one another.
I also wanted to let the film play out. I am not a fan of manipulating the audience, I would rather let them pick things up for themselves. It's hard nowadays to make a film where the audience members have to work, but if they start seeing the things in the way you do for a few moments, it's very exciting to open up that new viewpoint.
What were your biggest challenges in developing the project?
It was very hard to write this film as it's about topics which are close to my heart and I had to really be harsh with myself. I wanted to approach the characters with both empathy and satire. This is key to understanding the tone of the film. When you find yourself to be a fusion of so many things, so many cultures, there are bound to be "contradictions," but I don't think we see it that way. We can laugh at it, which is something very complex that I had to communicate.
The method in which the story is told is very much a part of its texture. I wasn't interested in simplifying the situation that my characters find themselves in. This is due to my fascination with those multifaceted moments that can be both funny and sad at the same time. I really tried to show that consistently throughout the film. It's something that everybody can relate to. We've all been in a situation when something grave has happened and yet something ridiculous or surreal occurs simultaneously.
I also fought to surround myself with the best creative team possible in order to get the exact look I wanted for the film. Stylistically I was drawn to super 16mm since Asya is out of sync with her generation, she's more in the spirit of the sixties. It's also a lighter camera and considering that we shot this in only 23 days, we had to be super fast, dashing around to get things on film. It was also very important style-wise to get the anthropological details of the world right from the artists work that we used, Manhattan, locations, costumes, fashion styling, designers we used, background people, cameos from the scene, as these details and the faces tell the story.
What do you hope people will take away from this film?
I'm not looking to tell people how things are or what solutions are needed. There is no real conclusion since the issues of rendition, imperialist wars, resistance, displacement, post feminism that are tackled within the film have not been resolved -- how could I try and resolve them in one film? I believe finding a solution to our problems comes from analyzing how we live and bringing up questions and different perspectives, which is what this film hopes to do. I would like people to come out of this film and have some small part of their brain open up and start seeing things in a way that they hadn't even thought of before.