Amara Abbas directs ‘Xena’ for Skrillex, featuring Nai Barghouti.
An ode to freedom, women’s life after revolution.
Filmed in Turkey.
Words from Amara below.
What were your primary thematic considerations directing ‘XENA’?
The themes were around female passion/rage, liberation, duality of culture, freedom of choice, and resistance.
Can you discuss the choreography in the film and its overall significance?
Our lead won’t stop dancing (or fighting) until her very last breath.
There is a lot of dance in this film overall. Some moments are designed with choreography and some moments are based on the real-time performance of the leads. It is a physical response to what is being felt inside, sometimes about honor, sometimes rage and relief, or liberation. We don’t often see women move this way. There is something beautiful in the ability to be completely free in movement, even a bit animal at times.
Throughout the film, the dancing builds with intensity, you see a lot of head banging, physical exertion to the point of absolute exhaustion. The dancing suggests a metaphor for fight and resistance. Our lead won’t stop dancing (or fighting) until her very last breath.
By day in the desert the choreography is inspired by a Turkish Sufi dance — it shows the different ways of spiritual expression. Both the spiritual dance and prayer mirror each other. Both are about wanting to connect with something greater. Both show how insignificant we are against our creator and/or nature.
This is a film about resistance and yet this is the only moment of surrender. I wanted to challenge the perspective of practice and rituals.
There is something beautiful in the ability to be completely free in movement, even a bit animal at times.
The dance has an escalating militant-like quality by night… the fight is never really over. Our lead is also dancing, quite violently, alone in an empty street, maybe even suggesting she is the last survivor. The last one left dancing. The last one left fighting.
It’s a mixed-paced cut. Could you talk a little about the intention, and how much was discovered during the edit?
I had blocks of sections in my mind in terms of the flow before shooting, but the music itself has a very strong rhythm and build, with many sonic elements. Skrillex is a musical genius and combined so many different sounds, from screamo to the Palestinian tabla… so a lot was also discovered in the edit.
We were not quite sure where the portraits would fit but we knew we wanted to capture them, this was brought to life in the edit on the percussion moments. Little flashes we’d see of faces on the beat. The overall feeling of the edit was supposed to move hard and fast with very little moments of breath in between. I didn’t want you to blink and miss a moment. It is meant to both suffocate you and touch you at the same time.
The overall feeling of the edit was supposed to move hard and fast with very little moments of breath in between.
Were there any specific visual references, source images, or videos that influenced your approach to ‘XENA’?
My EP and I did a lot of photographic research on places like Iran and Afghanistan, Kiana Hayeri’s work comes to mind. A lot of this film was also informed by the women’s revolution, so we studied the documentation of the protests. Also the incredible documentary, ‘El-banate dol’ in terms of the spirit of the girls we wanted to cast. Claire Denis, Alex Webb, Gaspar Noe were also influences as far as some of the visual approach.
What are you reading at the moment?
‘A River Dies of Thirst’ by Mahmoud Darwish.
- Maëva Tenneroni, Chad Ozturk, Suat Sağlam
- Executive Producer
- Director of Photography
- Bastienne Rondot
- BTS Photography
- Iconoclast, Panda Films
- Production Company