Jebel Banat Wins Award at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

Via Jebel Banat.

By Muhammed Aladdin.

Jebel Banat, an Egyptian short film written and directed by Sharine Atif, has won the Student Visionary Award at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

The film tells the story of two Bedouin women who chose to defy nomadic traditions. It all began when Atif heard a Sinai folktale from a Bedouin guide on a hiking trip, telling of two sisters who escaped the patriarchal tradition of forced marriages. Both of them ran into the mountains, tied their hair into one braid as a sign of joining their fates, and jumped off the cliff. Although tragic, the story made tribesmen think twice before forcing their daughters into unwanted matrimonies.

Years passed where Atif would at times think about these two girls while studying a filmmaking degree at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). For her graduation project, Atif made the decision to capture the beauty of this folktale and adapt it for the screen.

“The story is timeless and relatable. Women till this day are forced into marriages against their will. I was also impressed that in such a place and time young women were bold enough to escape for their freedom in spite of their fears. Fear of the unknown or being caught or not knowing how to survive. I also loved the period and location. Not many Egyptians know of the Egyptian Bedouin culture. The film gave me the opportunity to work in this magical place. I loved visiting and helping the community who suffered from a lack of tourism and means to make a living,” she explained in an interview with Women of Egypt.

In May 2016, she traveled to Cairo from California with nothing more than a screenplay. She didn’t have a budget or a crew. For some time, she searched for talented individuals who would volunteer to participate in the project, spending 10 or more days in the Sinai desert with no pay. To put it mildly, casting was difficult, but in the end, she managed to secure actresses Sara Somaya Abed and Jala Hesham on board to play the roles of the two sisters.

The next step was even more challenging as she had to travel through the Sinai mountains in search of the optimum filming location. This too was not without its complications, yet she managed to build good connections with the generous help provided by the Bedouin guides.

“It’s so hard to build trust with them and I feel honored they gave me access into their homes and world. They shared everything they had and knew how to help me make what I had in mind. The props on set and costumes were real ones they saved from the 19th century. They were excited that I would bring their lost past back to life again as no one ever focused on them; their life and heritage”, she said.

After an excruciating filming process, Jebel Banat made it to the screen, and overnight, has become a critics’ sensation. It participated in several film festivals including the Luxor African Film Festival and the Shnit Worldwide Film Festival Cairo Playground, where it won the Jury Special Mention Award.

It was also screened at the Mediterranean Short Film Festival of Tangier Morocco and the Short Film Corner Festival in Cannes. In 2019, it was screened at the Afrika Film Festival in Belgium and the TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, where it won the Student Visionary Award.

WE SAID THIS: Congratulations, Sharine. You truly broke the barrier with this one!