Eva Husson interview: the constantly erased memory of female strength on screen (2/2)

French director Eva Husson discusses challenges faced by women in the film industry

Eva Husson at the Taiwan premier of Girls of the Sun

Eva Husson at the Taiwan premier of Girls of the Sun (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In the second part of this interview, Eva Husson continues to talk with Taiwan News correspondent Ryan Drillsma about the process of making her new movie Girls of the Sun, her experience as a woman in the film industry, and what she has learned about Taiwan. The first part can be found here.

What kind of response did your movie receive from the Kurdish community?

I’m very happy about that. I was extremely nervous that I would make a cultural misstep. I was terrified of being blind to one angle and completely missing [the point].

It’s really about the story; I wanted the story to be told and arrive at its destination and I’m so grateful and happy it did. The movie was just screened in Kurdistan and apparently it was a wonderful screening and people loved it. The Kurdish community just saw it in Paris and they too fully endorsed it.

What sort of tasks did you undertake during the two-year research period you spoke about prior to filming?

I started reading a lot. I have a very academic background—I stayed in school until I was 27, so I always start with books to get a good understanding of what I have to tackle.

I did research about the Yazidi culture, the Kurdish political situation etc. and then I went to see the women. I traveled a lot to several different countries and I met [Yazidi] women in Europe and in Kurdistan and I conducted interviews with survivors, with the men who captured the women, and the congressmen who played key roles in everything.

I love researching; it’s one of the most interesting parts of a project because you get to hear and understand stuff first-hand that you would never know otherwise.

How did you go about choosing the actors for the movie?

Golshifteh Farahani—I knew she could speak Kurdish and French and I had just seen her in a French movie, so she was the obvious choice. She knew about the plight of the Yazidis and she knew about the tragedy and she’d been wanting to make a movie about them. When I went to see her she was like, “I’ve been waiting for you!” I could not believe it. She said yes before even reading the script. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Emanuelle [Bercot] came on board late into the project but she is very, very professional and I just love that she is a very strong woman who is also extremely vulnerable, and you can see it in real life and on screen. I wanted that in the journalist—I didn’t want just a one-sided character.

What do you most want audiences to take away from the movie?

That women are not victims; they are survivors and they are strong. Women should not doubt that for one second.

I’ve had a few women come to me after screenings telling me how important it had been for them to see strong women on screen. [Strong women] are so underrepresented in fiction that we tend to forget about them, so it’s like this constantly erased memory where women have to go through the process of learning all over again that [they are] strong.

When you see strong women on screen, you suddenly realize you are also strong. It mirrors your inner strength.

You mentioned the funding you received for this movie is probably a third of what a male would have received. What are some other obstacles you’ve overcome as a woman in the film industry?

You’re sort of always undermined and always have to prove yourself twice as hard as a man and its exhausting. We’re exhausted all the time as women.

Sometimes it makes you very angry and I’ve started to realize it’s possible to use that anger as a source of energy. In terms of facts, it’s hearing your producer tell you the financiers doubt you can make a war movie because you’ve never made a war movie before, which is utter bullshit. Men have a first time too and nobody questions the capacity of a man to make a war movie.

Generally speaking, I guess the bottom line is: be careful not to let the systemic quality of the patriarchy run you down and despair you. You have to always keep your head up and believe in yourself because society does not provide that for you when you’re a woman.

It’s finally beginning to simmer but what’s happening now is just the tip of the iceberg and its largely not enough. But it’s a start, and we just have, I guess, about 500 years of work ahead to make things completely equal.

We’ve started to see conversations change, for example, about sexual harassment with the #metoo and #timesup movements. However, as seen recently in the U.S., men who have committed violence against women are still being given positions of power. What does society need to do to bring about true change?

For starters, vote. But beyond that I really feel men need to step up to the plate. Women have started the movement and they have been brave. I think we need men to show up as allies.

The first wave of feminist men are convinced, they just need to keep on working on it—they know now. However, there is a second layer in the structure of society where a lot of men still don’t understand there is an issue.

Because they only hear women complain they are not really hearing it. They will only hear what is really happening when it comes from other men, allies, because then the content will prevail over the biased perception of it.

Is there any specific advice you give to women in the film industry?

Don’t underestimate the patriarchy. Thing’s aren’t okay now; you will have to keep fighting, you will have to work twice as hard. Do not give up, because when a woman succeeds in doing something, she succeeds for all women.

Me and my friends have been talking about this feeling of exhaustion, because once you open the door, you start seeing everything around you through this filter of systemic patriarchy. It’s really disheartening and it’s really hard to take in every day.

But count the small victories and keep your head high. And it’s okay to go and cry to eventually get back on the saddle.

One more thing I wanted to ask is: have you learned anything more about Taiwan since being here?

Of course, the whole point of coming here was to learn more about the island. I think Taipei has a very cinematic quality at night. I like wandering through the streets because Taipei is super safe, and as a woman I don’t really have to worry. I’ve been absolutely amazed and blown away by the cinematographic imagery [of Taipei at night]. I was a big fan of Tsai Ming-liang when I was a teenager and the quality of the light and everything brought back memories of that.

Since I got here I talked a lot with my distributor about China, Taiwan, Japan, and the situation regarding aboriginals, because I’ve traveled a lot to islands and I’ve always been very aware of the discrimination native people face. I think it’s crucial people know about it, so I ask a lot of questions about that.

I think people fighting for recognition, not getting it and being let down by the international community is something people can relate to here in terms of politics, so I really hope people here resonate with the movie. There was a congresswoman at the screening who told me she absolutely adored the film and I really thank her for that.

I think people should never forget their roots—if you forget those, you will be dissolved by something that is not you, so you really have to keep fighting for your own identity.

Eva Husson came to Taiwan as part of the Women Make Waves film festival, established by Taiwan Women’s Film Association (TWFA). TWFA aims to empower women within the domestic film industry and expand the gender studies discourse in Taiwan. More information can be found about the group here.