By The Water tells the story of Nedjma, a young Muslim girl wearing the hijab who gets assaulted in the street for it. Her attacker throws her hijab to the ground and runs away, leaving her on shock. On the other side of the street, Lola, an LGBTQ+ activist sees the scene and goes to her to make sure she’s okay. She takes her to a calmer place and puts her flyers next to her. Nedjma, intrigued, looks at it. Lola, anxious, is expecting Nedjma to be judgmental. Instead, she takes Lola’s flyers and starts distributing them on the square. This story is a feminist one and simply says that in a harsh world for women, we have to be here for each other, regardless of our personal beliefs, and that sometimes, those major differences we think of are not as big as they look. Also, it deconstructs prejudices on Muslim women, who can be as feminist and militant as anyone else, and their choice to wear the hijab is nothing else but this: their choice.
By The Water is a short movie shot on a black and white roll of film – technically meaning that each shot could only be done once, which was the challenge of this exercise. I wanted to do something in line with my time, showing values I have at heart – also I may have been quite angry the day I wrote that script. My goal was to shot this story in a very aesthetic, vintage way.
As I wrote it in one of my first articles on The Hysteria Collective, ‘Representation, The Buzz Word That Does Matter’, I arrived in film school knowing I wanted to show people that weren’t shown enough, that I wanted to tell stories we all have at heart while making them political, very human, very real. What touches me are the stories of the world I live in, my own experiences and my friends/people I know experiences. Thus, I often work with actors my age, set coming-of-age or thrillers plots and like to portray modern love, doubts, idleness and anger.
It took me quite some time to find my two actresses – I had my characters in mind and didn’t want to betray them. Jessie and Enola were the perfect match and they convinced – and touched me – the second I met them. Both in acting school, they knew what they were doing and were ready to take Nedjma and Lola, my two characters, to a very complete and deep form. The young man assaulting Nedjma is played by Valentin (or Billy), my best friend, also in acting school. He bears values similar to mine, so it was quite challenging for him to be aggressive towards Jessie – they are both people of colour and Billy is Arabic himself. The young passenger at the end is Leo, a musician that always loved to act and I decided to give him a part.
My technical crew was only composed of women, in the spirit of this film. Women of different backgrounds, sexual orientations, styles. The four of them (Camille Tosca, Anaïs Vokleber, Margot Chalandon and Aimee Cathala) revealed themselves as amazingly professional and enthusiastic with this project – and I’m very glad they didn’t judge my storyboard and understood it because I’m terrible at drawing.
On set, I had timed everything and everyone was very effective. I also made sure to keep on the good and friendly atmosphere we had and that everyone was okay, especially Jessie and Billy, after the assault scene. Maybe that’s one of the things By The Water taught me: the people you work with matter, professionalism matters – a lot – alongside respect and consideration towards each other. But also to enjoy it and make beautiful memories, otherwise, you’re quite missing the point.
The Hysteria Collective are incredibly proud to share this piece and so grateful for all the wonderful artists involved in making it.