Winner of the Best Documentary of the Year 2014 at the IndieFEST 2014 (USA) Film Award, Ode to My Mother is a touching documentary about a very inspiring Saudi Arabian woman: Tahra Abdul Hafiz Al-Siba'i. Born in 1933, she did not have access to a proper education and yet she became an acclaimed artist, author and poet after years of striving to learn with only her perseverance and self motivation to guide her. She was also a mother who went against the tide to give her children the best education possible, moving from her hometown of Mecca to Egypt and then to the UK. She did her best to raise her kids while her husband was still in KSA. She was proud to be from Saudi Arabia and significantly contributed to the revival and preservation of Bedouin fashion. She passed away in 2011 and Ode to My Mother is her story through the eyes of her children. While her children and even some of her grandchildren have a voice in this documentary, one of her children, Ferial Masry, takes the lead. Then again, this is totally understandable since the film is based on a biography Ferial Masry wrote about her mother.
Watch the trailer:
The film's director and producer, Georges Chamchoum, was kind enough to give StepFeed an exclusive interview:
What initially drew you to this project?
"The project came to me. Ferial Masry has been looking for me for months and when she finally saw my Interview on MTV, she contacted Karen Boustany….and the rest is history.
Initially when approached by Ferial to do the movie, I wasn’t very 'hot' because I did not have enough material to start with. I told Ferial that I was not interested, but oh, boy she was so adamant and said: 'It’s you or no one!'
That’s very flattering! I tried to see what could be done and still could not find enough material to start with. All I had was the Story of Tahra Abdul Hafiz Al Siba’I (1933-2011) told through her daughter Ferial, several Books that Tahra wrote and hundreds of pictures. Not one single video or Super 8 footage. Just a 2 minute video.
After 4 months of hesitation (with a check sitting on my desk), I said to myself that I had to surround myself with the best to make this project happen. And so I contacted all my usual suspects: Ryan Turner, Souzan Basmaji, Jeff Frentzen, Sam Lahoud, Aref Radjai, David Fukumoto, Marwan Akkawi, Edouard Brenneisen, John Reed, Chris Kriesa, Basil Pina, Min Lee and NDU, Louaize...and we took it from there. That’s how Ode to My Mother was born."
As someone originally from the Middle East, how did you relate to this story about a Saudi mother who went abroad to give her kids the best education possible?
"I totally identified with the story. At the age of nine, my parents put me in a boarding school in France , where I spent 7 years. My father was working in Niger, West Africa and my mother was moving to Lebanon to be with my siblings for their schooling and so I was the one who ended up being sent all alone to France. All in the name to have the best education there is. I am grateful, but it left a huge emotional scar!"
What were the challenges you faced while piecing together this real life story?
"The biggest challenge was to turn a very personal story into one that was universal and accessible to all. I did not have much choice but to create reenactments, which I was totally against at the beginning. But when I saw that I had practically nothing on video, I had to turn to reenactment, which to my relief worked wonderfully. I used Rana Zaarour and H.I.R.H. Prince Gharios of Ghassan, Al-Nu'man VIII to perform Tahra and her husband. I wanted the movie to be a poem. A poem dedicated to every mother."
What aspects of the film went especially smoothly?
"You know it was one of the smoothest filming I have ever worked on. Everything went wonderfully well, then again how can you go wrong when you are so well surrounded! It was a walk in the park. Goodness how I love this business with all its challenge, difficulties and easiness! That’s what I call a 'blessing'."
How was this project different from your previous work?
"A project is a project. Whenever I take a project on, I make sure it is done with passion and love. It might start as just another project, but when I am immersed in it, it becomes a total part of myself. It becomes 'me'!"
Do you have any other films about Arab women in the pipeline?
"Actually, Ferial Masry is very seriously considering doing a follow-up on Ode to My Mother. It will be an “Ode to the Saudi Women”. We have already a lot of footage. I'm not sure when it will be done though since I am in the middle of getting my next feature off the ground: 9 Women, A Modern Tale in Yakutia . This is a story I wrote and it was adapted by Jeffrey Frentzen, Jules Bruff and Mariya Nakhodkina so it can be shot on location in Yakutia, Republic of Sakha. The cast is from Yakutia with the exception of one actress from Kyrgyzstan and three from the USA. It will be shot entirely in Sakha Language and Russian with only 10% in English. It’s a co-production between Yakutia, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon and the USA. This project is my most personal, ambitious, challenging and difficult to date. I love it!"