I met the young producer/ writer/ director Halima Ouardiri at TIFF 12 through their mentoring program. Born of a Swiss mother and a Moroccan father in 1977 in Geneva where she spent her childhood and adolescence experiencing various activities such as dressage of horses and close protection of Saudi Arabian princesses. She now lives in Montreal where she studied political science and then cinema at Concordia University. Working at EyeSteelFilm , she gained experience in the production of independent films. She wrote the screenplay and directed a fiction short, Au Sol in 2004 and La Robe in 2009, a documentary short. She won the Grand Prix of the ‘Cours écrire ton court!’ Competition organized by SODEC with the screenplay for Mokhtar which she then directed.
Her next project, Body, really sparked my interest. It tells the story of a young woman who enters a world of intrigue when she is hired as the bodyguard for a visiting Saudi princess. Body is drawn directly from her experience as a bodyguard. Back in 2003, she became the bodyguard of a Saudi princess on holiday in Geneva. She was only twenty-five years old and had taken the job to make some money over the summer. Halima told me, “The opportunity has since inspired me to make a film that offers a unique exploration into a closed and unseen world, where the ultra-privileged can escape reality, and as a result loose touch with humanity. I like to observe what makes us human today, and so I must look at concrete and extreme situations which society has constructed.”
Halima just travelled back to Geneva where she is planning to shoot Body, in the Summer of 2014. She finds the city of Geneva very inspiring, a catalyst to finishing the script in the next 3 months.
Previously, Halima wrote, directed and produced the award winning short, Mokhtar. Based on a true story, it recounts the tale of a young boy who lives with his family of goat herds in a remote Moroccan village. One day, the boy finds a fallen owl and decides to keep it despite the fact that the owl is considered a bad omen. Mokhtar’s new pet becomes a symbol of rebellion against his family and an icon of his fledgling independence. Kinship, religion and spirituality are all confronted in this film that celebrates inner and outer strength.
Filming was no small feat. Halima shot on super-16 in the remote countryside of Morocco near Agadir casting local villagers, goats, and an owl to be the stars of the film. Of all the cast, only the owl was trained as an actor. Since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (Canada Short Cuts), Mokhtar has traveled to a hundred international film festivals (Dubai, Rotterdam, Berlin, SXSW), and has won numerous awards for Best Short.