October’s Online Short: EL HARA

This month’s Online Short asks the question how do the fortresses we build to protect ourselves affect the people we become?

A synagogue visited by the filmmakers of EL HARA

Dirs. Margaux Fitoussi, Mo Scarpelli, France, Tunisia, 2017, 16 min.

EL HARA follows one man’s break with the neighborhood of his youth, the Jewish quarter of Tunis, highlighting how such moments of rupture haunt us forever. Watch the film and read an interview with directors Margaux Fitoussi and Mo Scarpelli below:

JFI: What inspired you to make this film?

Margaux: In the preface to Albert Memmi’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Pillar of Salt, Albert Camus notes “the impossibility of a Jewish Tunisian of French culture to be anything precise.” I could really identify with that statement as someone who grew up in France and the United States in the Tunisian Jewish diaspora. EL HARA was an opportunity for me to explore why my family migrated from Tunisia to France and Israel in the decade following Tunisian independence.

EL HARA directors Margaux Fitoussi and Mo Scarpelli

JFI: What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?

Mo: It was Ramadan, and very hot, during the shoot. So, many places were closed all day (which was challenging considering we wanted to film the current atmosphere of a bustling city center neighborhood…), most people were tired or hiding inside most of the day. I’m not Muslim, but never wanted to eat in front of others who were fasting, so shooting on little food and water was challenging sometimes. Another challenge in the edit was trying to marry the real Memmi (an interview we did with him in Paris) with his writings, which we had read in a younger voice; this was fun to play with though until we figured out what worked best.

A scene from Tunisia depicted in EL HARA

JFI: Any thoughts you’d like to share about screening this film in a Jewish context?

Margaux: I hope this film inspires people to think more about Jewish-American religiosity that is not embedded in the Ashkenazi and European experience and to read about the long history of Sephardi Jews in Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries.

If you’d like more context on the film, I recently spoke on the Ottoman History Podcast.

JFI: What film/media has inspired you lately?

Mo: Too many! Right now, I’m very motivated by contemporary docs that really follow an energy and pulse of a story vs. using didactic form, and are very strong stories visually. For example, ABOVE AND BELOW (2015), THOSE WHO FEEL THE FIRE BURNING (2015), THESE BIRDS WALK (2014… there are many more but these come to mind visually as influences on EL HARA and some of my recent work.

Margaux: Recently, I’ve been inspired by the experimental films of Ana Vaz, a Brazilian filmmaker-artist! Her 15 minute short film, OCCIDENTE, unpacks the fraught post-colonial relationship between Brazil and Portugal and helped me think through how I wanted to make EL HARA.

JFI: What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?

Margaux: I just started a PhD program in anthropology at Columbia, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reading and exploring New York!

Mo: I read poetry!

Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious, or disgusting?

Margaux: I grew up in a Sephardi family and when I moved to the United States and tried gefilte fish for the first time I was…not too impressed!

Each month, the Jewish Film Institute presents a new free short film to watch online from emerging voices in Jewish documentary, narrative and experimental filmmaking, accompanied by an interview with the film’s director. To watch more JFI Online Shorts, visit the archive of free films here.

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