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Human Rights Watch FF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Gini Reticker – ‘The Trials of Spring’

Human Rights Watch FF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Gini Reticker - 'The Trials of Spring'

Reticker is the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning producer and director of “Pray the Devil Goes Back to Hell,” “Asylum,” and the celebrated PBS Series, “Women, War & Peace.” She is the executive producer
of “The Trials of Spring” and directed the feature documentary
layer of the series. (Press materials)

“The Trials of Spring” will premiere at the 2015 Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 12.

W&H: Please
give us your description of the film playing.

GR: It’s the story of a young
Egyptian woman, Hend Nafea, who travels from her village to Cairo to add her
voice to the tens of thousands of Egyptians calling for “bread, freedom and
social justice” and THE end to 60 years of military rule. She is arrested, beaten and tortured by security forces and later punished and imprisoned by her family
for daring to speak out. Hend refuses to give up on the dream for a better
Egypt, even as the situation around her descends into chaos. 

She is part of a community
of activists who support each other in their quest for freedom and stand
apart from the rest of a country that stands deeply divided. They see
themselves as genuinely part of — and fighting for — the original wave of the
revolution, irrespective of the deadly power struggle between the security
services and the military on one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other
side. Hend Nafea’s story mirrors the trajectory of the Arab Spring — from the
ecstasy of newfound courage to the agony of shattered dreams. In the end,
despite crushing setbacks, it is their resilience that sustains the hope for
reform even in the darkest hours of repression.

W&H: What
drew you to this story?

GR: The issue of women is
universally important, wherever it is. In terms of how to make the world a
better place, it’s a cutting-edge issue of our time. If something important
happens in the world, women have invariably played an important role, but that is very unlikely to be in the headlines. Most people in the “Western world” think of Arab women as meek, suppressed and unable to voice an opinion.

contrast, most of the women I met are strong, resilient and empowered. They are
extraordinary leaders. Women in the Middle East and North Africa don’t need
saving though. In fact, they are the region’s saviors. They are the solution.
That’s why it was important for us to tell these stories and why we are telling
it in this way.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

GR: It’s important to say that I
went to Egypt thinking I was making a film about triumph. So as the situation
changed on the ground, so did the film, which in and of itself was a tremendous
challenge. Also, to be really honest, there was a tremendous amount of mistrust
that I had to deal with in a way that I was not accustomed to with previous
projects. Partially, this had to do with the political and security situation, which was constantly changing and unpredictable. But it was primarily because
the women we spoke to had a strong feeling that a lot of the international
media hadn’t accurately portrayed them. 

Ultimately, we were able to complete the
film in a way that all of us are really proud of. Mariam Kirollos, one of the
three women that we prominently feature in the feature documentary, recently
told me how incredibly pleased she is with the film. I am really happy about
that. We took a lot of steps to ensure that we accurately reflected the reality
that we confronted on the ground and that was true to the characters we
followed. But, like I said, that was challenging because of the mistrust. I
spent more time gaining the trust of people on this project than any other
project that I have ever worked on.

W&H: What do
you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

GR: I want them to rethink their perceptions of Arab women in general. Women are at the forefront of
progressive change across this region. They are being imprisoned and tortured
by the repressive regimes. At the same time, they are being actively targeted
and assassinated by violent extremists. But they are not invited to discussions on how to end the menace of violent extremism and global peace and
security — yet they hold the key [to unlocking solutions].

That’s why we have launched a petition asking
the Obama Administration to bring women who are on the front lines of peace-building
in the Arab world to the reconvening of the Global Summit on Violent Extremism
in September and to host a meeting of these women and high-level US officials
to hear their proposals for bringing peace and security to the region. I want
my audience to lend their voice to this call and ask the U.S. administration whether or not they think that Arab Women’s voices matter by going to and clicking on the ‘Take Action’ button.

W&H: What
advice do you have for other female directors?

GR: Never say die. Seriously, I
think women directors have so much to offer. We don’t have one story to tell,
or one perspective to offer, but a world of stories as varied as we are. I
could wallpaper my house with the rejections I have received over the years. I
lick my wounds and then set about trying to figure out how to work around any
given obstacle. Tenacity is key.

W&H: How did
you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

GR: We fought tooth and nail for funding throughout the process of making the film and the shorts — even as
late as two weeks ago, we were raising final funds. We tried everything. We
crowdsourced the film through the Catapult platform, conducted fundraising
events at individuals’ homes, put the work in at IFP’s Spotlight on
Documentaries project forum, sought corporate sponsorship, applied to every
grant in the book, and then kept going. I think it’s fair to say that we
were pretty tenacious in our efforts and that fundraising comprised a
significant part of the day-to-day work.

Ultimately, this is a
publicly funded project made possible with support from ITVS and CPB and individual donors, private foundations, public foundations, and film grants
like the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund and Chicken and Egg Pictures. The
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been an especially important
supporter. But at the end of the day, we were successful in our efforts because
we never gave up, we left no stone unturned and we approached our funders not
simply as sources of funding, but as partners.  I think this distinction
is important; as a result, we have an amazing and engaged community of
supporters that have made the project possible.

W&H: Name
your favorite woman-directed film and why

GR: I am not sure that I can pick
one favorite woman-directed film, but I love almost everything that Jane Campion has ever
directed. I love how she constructs the frame to reflect the internal reality
of her characters — like paintings of their interior lives. I love the way she
consciously portrays small details of daily life as key to understanding the
confines of her characters’ worlds. The stories she chooses to tell and the
people who populate her films resonate with me on such a visceral level that I
feel electrified when I watch them.

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