“She realises the desires which are tormenting her are pleasurable and part of who she is.”
It’s the day that should have been Pride in Liverpool and instead of gathering in the city centre, we’re mustering at home ahead of our virtual celebrations – our MarchOnline. But even with all that excitement, we’ve still got plenty of time to catch up with the director of last night’s film Shawafa, Ashtar Alkhirsan.
“This story came out of a discussion I had with the actor Houda Echouafni, who plays Saeeda in the film. Houda is from Morocco and we worked together on my last film, Abdullah and Leilah, and on a documentary project where we shot in Meknes in Morocco,” says Ashtar. “Houda had spoken about the role that magic plays in Moroccan culture and about the powerful, charismatic women called Shawafa, who practice it.”
In Morocco, people visit the Shawafa as a form of therapy or counselling, to talk about relationships, fertility or work problems. “I was interested in telling a story where a character visits a Shawafa and discovers that she doesn’t actually need to be ‘cured’ of anything,” continues Ashtar. “Through her visit, she realises that the desires which are tormenting her are pleasurable and part of who she is.”
All the characters in Shawafa are Muslim women and are from different ethnic and social backgrounds. They are older and complex, as well as being driven and having rich inner lives.
“It was also important that these were women with sexual desires which find expression. I am interested in telling stories that are rooted in communities or characters who are not necessarily born in the UK,” explains Ashtar. “This is part of my own family background. How do people live their lives in their adopted countries, holding onto their traditional culture and fusing it with the culture of the country they have made their home, this is a question I want to continue exploring in my next project.”