The San Francisco IndieFest, which opened last week, brings some of the most uncommon and interesting independent films to the Bay Area every year. This year, the Arab Film Festival has the honor of co-presenting one of these great films that will be showing this coming weekend, A Revolution in Four Seasons on February 11th and 12th. This film takes a unique and very personal look into what has been happening in Tunisia in the four years following the revolution. In preparation for this weekends’ screenings, we spoke to the film’s director and producer Jessie Deeter and co-producer Sara Maamouri to get some insight into their film.
Arab Film Festival: Tell us about your film A Revolution in Four Seasons. What is it about and how did the project start?
Jessie Deeter & Sara Maamouri: A Revolution in Four Seasons follows the story of two young Tunisian women, representing opposite sides of the political spectrum, during the four years after the Revolution and leading up to the first ever democratic Presidential elections. This film began when Jessie was living abroad with her family in 2010 and 2011 as a Fulbright Scholar in Oman, Morocco and Tunisia. When the people of Tunisia kicked out President Ben Ali, we knew that the world would never be the same. It was the equivalent of the fall of the Berlin wall, and, as a journalist and documentary filmmaker, Jessie knew that she wanted to find a way to tell the story, especially the deeper question of what happens after a revolution. What would democracy mean in a land that has never had it? What would be the role of the Islamists who were persecuted for so many years under the old authoritarian, Euro-centric, regime?
AFF: How did you meet the film’s main subjects, Emna Ben Jemaa and Jawhara Ettis?
JD & SM: Shortly after the revolution, Sara attended a panel at UC Berkeley on what was happening in the Arab world as the beginnings of the Arab Spring unfolded and there she met Bassem Bouguerra, a Tunisian computer programmer at Yahoo and political blogger on the side. Inspired by what was going on, he had decided to quit his job and move back to Tunisia to see how he could help his country. Through Bassem, Jessie and Sara got to know his then girlfriend, Emna Ben Jemaa, a fascinating staunchly secular journalist/blogger and heroine of the Revolution. Jessie knew she wanted to find a woman who was part of the Islamist movement and was introduced to several young women. At the time Jawhara was a youth coordinator for the party but soon thereafter was elected to the first Parliament after the Revolution, in charge of writing Tunisia’s new constitution.
AFF: What made you decide to tell the story of the conflict in post-Revolution Tunisia in this way?
JD & SM: We knew we wanted to tell the story of what happened next after a revolution through the eyes of women because it felt that there was so much at stake for women in the question of Tunisia’s political future: Would the freedoms and rights of women be protected if Islamists are given more say in a newly democratic system?
AFF: Did you encounter any major challenges while making the film?
JD & SM: There were many challenges in the making of this film. Our biggest challenge was how to raise funds and keep filming in Tunisian while living in the Bay Area. There was a lot of back and forth with a fair amount of gear that required significant planning to transport and begging of the Frankfurt authorities to not place in the hold. Our biggest gift on that front was partnering with our two amazing camera men, Bassem Aounallah and Hatem Nechi, who were with us from the beginning until the end. We did manage to make about a dozen trips to Tunisia over the five years of filming, but there were a few times that we could not be on the ground in Tunisia to film things like funeral protests, and for those we relied heavily on our men in the field.
AFF: Do you have any tips for other filmmakers on how to get together a stellar crew?
JD & SM: I think you have to treat crew like the stellar rare and precious gems that they are (and if they are good and you like them, hold them close). Be honest with them. Always. Let them know what they are going into and let them know the challenges ahead. And when they go above and beyond, sing their praises to them and to others who can also employ them.
AFF: Why do you think it is important for American audiences to view this film? What do you hope people will get out of the film?
JD & SM: We think it’s very important for our American audience to see that these two young women, who are both Muslim women, are in some ways so different from each other, yet are living such parallel lives. We really hope that they resonate with our audience and help them see that they are so similar to each other as well as to women everywhere, dealing with many of the same challenges in their lives. In recent screenings, our American audiences have been pointing out the increasing relevance of Tunisia’s story to our current American situation- its fight for democracy, shades of protest and Black Lives Matter…At the end of the day, though, we also hope to draw in people who wouldn’t necessarily come to film about “women” or “Muslims” because it’s just a great story that happens to feature women and Muslims.
AFF: What’s next for each of you? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?
JD & SM: Jessie has been working on a film about artificial intelligence that will come out later this year and she is consulting for a couple of films while she travels with A Revolution in Four Seasons, does some work for Apple and considers her next film.
Sara is currently editing The Judge, the story of the first female Palestinian Shari’a judge, directed by Erika Cohn and We Are Not Princesses, a documentary about Syrian women refugees living in Beirut who get involved in a theater reinterpretation of Sophocles’ play Antigone.
A Revolution in Four Seasons will be showing this weekend at SF Indiefest. See it on February 11th at the Roxie Theatre or on February 12th at Alamo Drafthouse. Details and tickets are available here.