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Unveiling the Truth: A Candid Conversation with Director Asmae El Moudir on the Oscar-Shortlisted ‘The Mother of All Lies

January 7, 2024

Asmae El Moudir, an emerging filmmaker with a passion for telling intimate and sensitive stories, recently took audiences on a profound journey with her documentary, The Mother of All Lies, which was supported by the Red Sea Fund and was part of the WIP Showcase at the Red Sea Souk. The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has recently been shortlisted for Best International Feature Film at the 2024 Oscars, is a deeply personal exploration of her family’s history. “The Mother of All Life was a personal story about my family, exploring memory and inventing narratives without concrete proof,” she says. “Delving into how we restore memory and reconstruct past events.”

The creation of the documentary was spurred on by El Moudir’s confusion about her family’s lack of personal photos, which she eventually learned was due to her grandmother Zahra strictly prohibiting the creation of any images or photographs. El Moudir and her father crafted a set of miniature clay figurines to recreate her childhood memories in lieu of any personal photos. “The film merges imagination and reality seamlessly,” she says. “It explores the naivety of children alongside the harsh realities of life. The challenge was transitioning between reality and imagination without explicitly signaling the shift, creating a captivating viewing experience.”

The ten-year journey of creating this film was not without its challenges. “Convincing my family and community to participate in the project was challenging,” explains El Moudir. “Building trust and creating a safe space for them to share their stories took time.” Moreover, the absence of archival material led her to create her own archive, extending the production period. Financial constraints were also present, but the support from the Red Sea Fund played a crucial role in easing the process, according to El Moudir.

“Red Sea Fund not only provided financial assistance but also offered creative and cinematographic support,” she says. “Their involvement extended beyond mere funding; it created an ecosystem for filmmakers. The recognition and opportunities they provide are invaluable, helping filmmakers like me to reach international platforms and share our stories globally.”

Wearing multiple hats as director, producer, and editor, El Moudir demonstrated her commitment to breaking traditional boundaries in filmmaking. Despite limited resources, she taught herself various aspects of the craft, dedicating two years of her life to her film. “Having limited resources, I became the editor of my film,” she says. “Working tirelessly for two years, and dedicating myself entirely to the project.”

El Moudir’s advice for aspiring documentarians resonates with her own journey: “I encourage filmmakers not to limit themselves. Experiment with different forms and styles within documentaries. Use your creativity to convey stories authentically. Don’t shy away from unconventional ideas. Embrace the freedom to explore, dig deep, and be honest in your storytelling.”

Today, El Moudir is part of the Cannes residency for her next film, a narrative-driven feature that is inspired by a true story. “My upcoming project is fiction but once again rooted in actual events,” she says. “It explores earthly experiences while allowing the audience to soar into the realm of imagination. I continue my mission to shed light on the issues faced by women in our region and convey them through artistic expression.”

As we anticipate El Moudir’s future projects, her journey stands as a testament to unwavering dedication, creativity, and determination in the world of cinema. The transformative power of storytelling is evident in her ability to turn personal stories into powerful narratives. With the support of the Red Sea Fund and her artistic vision, El Moudir has paved the way for success, underscoring the significance of organizations that empower filmmakers in the region.

“We come back to the things that hurt, and I also believe that everything we encounter in life deserves to be shared,” says El Moudir. “For as long as I encounter events that impact life, I will make films. Because my films all come from something that I meet, they come from me, be it moments in a taxi, on the train, or in the city. I will not tell any story I haven’t faced myself in reality.”