Eva Husson interview: telling the story of Yazidi female fighters in ‘Girls of the Sun’ (1/2)

French director Eva Husson discusses her new film, which premiered in Taiwan on Oct. 13

French director Eva Husson (right) (Image by Women Make Waves Taiwan)

French director Eva Husson (right) (Image by Women Make Waves Taiwan)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Taiwan premiere of Eva Husson’s new film “Le Filles du Soleil” (Girls of the Sun) on Saturday Oct. 13, as part of the Women Make Waves film festival, was met with rapturous applause as credits appeared on screen.

Perhaps the audience resonated with the troupe of fearless fighters attempting to reclaim an integral part of their homeland in the face of an indomitable and unpredictable opponent amid silence from the international community. Perhaps it was the sheer strength and resilience demonstrated by a group of women on screen—a demographic all-too-often shown as victims and background characters in depictions of war.

French director Eva Husson was one of only three female directors nominated for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. However, the lack of appreciation for female-led or directed movies within the industry is only symptomatic of a larger, more general problem in society, Husson told Taiwan News.

Her new film Girls of the Sun plunges viewers into the atrocities of modern-day warfare, but the director was resolute in making the focal point of the story the incredible courage and determination shown by the Yazidi women.

The movie—based on true stories and people Husson encountered during her two-year research period prior to filming—tells the tale of a group of Kurdish female insurgents battling to recapture an Iraqi town occupied by ISIS. It is revealed during the film that the entire battalion consists of former ISIS captives. Lead commander, Bahar, is on a mission to rescue her still-missing son.

In a short speech after the premiere, Husson revealed many of the actors in the movie had never actually acted before. However, the director was determined that the story of the Yazidi women was portrayed only by actual Yazidi women.

Given current volatility in the Middle East and sensitivity surrounding issues related to Kurds—long denied autonomy and oppressed by their various home states—Husson recalled that finding a suitable filming location was difficult. However, her team settled on a location in Georgia, where the local Kurdish women were elated to be in the film and have the opportunity to share their stories, the director added.

Taiwan News correspondent Ryan Drillsma sat down with Eva Husson to discuss not only the pressing issues captured in the film, but also the extra pressures female directors face when attempting to tackle such difficult subjects. Husson spoke about her film-making career, the experience of being a woman in the movie industry and what she had recently learned about Taiwan:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. Firstly, why did you decide to take part in the Women Make Waves festival?

I got invited back in July or August. I knew about the festival and thought it was a fantastic idea, and I’m a very curious person so I figured I should come and check it out and present the movie to the Taiwanese audience because I don’t know them.

After the premiere you mentioned that you have quite an interesting family background. Has that influenced your film-making journey?

As I said during the screening, my grandfather was a Spanish Republican solider during the Spanish Civil War and he enrolled in 1936 when he was 16, and I think if anything, it has influenced me a lot in terms of being inspired by epic stories.

He told me some stories that were super tragic, some that were super funny… …I had the weirdest stories when I was a teenager. His brother had to murder someone when he was 22 because that person had killed all the heads of the POUM party (the anarchist party).

That kind of story-telling in the family kind of heightened the stakes. He was a resistant, and being a Spanish soldier… …it’s not really well-known but they’re the ones that helped build the French resistance. All these things; it gives you a different idea of life.

With such an in-depth knowledge of the Spanish Civil War, did you ever consider making a film on the subject?

Actually, my first script was on the Spanish Civil War. I had written a whole script about a few characters who all ended up in French concentration camps right after the war, like my grandfather, but I realized that it was 2007, nobody was interested, nobody gave a fuck.

They thought: immigrants in concentration camps in Europe? It’s not gonna happen again. I was very aware it could not be my first film as people would just not give me money for it.

When I came across the story about the Kurdish people and the Yazidi women it felt extremely familiar because I had written work about war and people who had fought for their ideals but did not succeed. Which is pretty much what’s happening right now with the Kurdish community.

I am absolutely ashamed of the way the international community and Europe are behaving, just surrendering to money, capitalism and short-term interests. It’s a disaster for everybody.

I had a chance to watch your first feature-length film “Bang Gang”, which tells the story of a group of French teenagers that decide to start a swinging club. What inspired you to tackle such a different topic this time around?

I suppose the urgency of the political situation. First of all, I heard about the [true] story of Bang Gang in 2000/2001 when I was in my 20s and obviously it resonated a lot.

I started writing it in 2009 so I was still sort of coming out of my adolescence and it made sense to talk about that political void and absence of ideals—which is what the movie is really about—rather than just sex. It’s never about just sex; sex always conveys something else than just itself.

After that I just felt I was in the right moment with the right people to tackle Girls of the Sun. I knew I could get financed, I knew my producer could handle the scope of the project, so all of these ingredients just made me go for it.

What made you want to make a movie about the story of the Kurds in particular?

It was really the women. I would not have made a movie about the Kurdish people if it weren't for the women—it’s really all about them. I sympathized completely with their cause and my family background allows me to understand the complexities of that.

But it was really about the display of strength the women showed. It impressed me so much when I read about them. I thought if it could have such an effect on me in a few lines, it could deeply impact people in the audience.

Are there any common threads between Bang Gang and Girls of the Sun, despite their vast differences in subject matter? Both are heavily female-led, for example.

I think we’re vastly underrepresented on screen and I think it has a huge impact on how women view themselves in real life.

When all female characters are subdued into the background… …even when you walk into a bookshop, when you walk into a place with representations of human beings, most of them are men. I really think this leads to a lack of confidence among women and a lack of understanding about how important we are.

I think history lacks representation, and I [wanted to] bring my little brick to the big wall of representation.

I think it’s a collective effort and I can’t wait for more women to step up to the plate and write stories about us, make movies about us—just occupy the space. I think it’s a matter of being there; the more diverse representation is the less stereotypical it becomes.

Part two of the interview can be found here.