Wednesday, August 8, 2012

LFF2012 - Interview Anna Carolina Negri, Daniela Pintão and Giselle Avilés-Maldonado


A documentary by Anna Carolina Negri, Daniela Pintão, Giselle M. Avilés-Maldonado, Lidia García, María Iserte and Patricia Carballo

(Voir également article Hors compétition Partie 2/3

What is the motivation behind your documentary?
Anna Carolina Negri (A.C.N.):  In 2007, I made an investigation for a year about Muslim women living in the Greater Sao Paulo, in Brazil, which ended up in a book called Pro trás do Véu­ -“Behind the Veil”, in a free translation. When I came to Barcelona, I founded out that Catalonia is the region with the greater number of Muslins in Spain and an important part of this community consists of converts. And more than this: two, out of three converts, are women. So this became a new focus of investigation and the more I learnt about it the more I felt the necessity of listening the versions of these new characters in first person, of giving voice to them.
Daniela Pintão (D.P.): As Anna Carolina said, the project was inspired by her original idea. Shahada was developed and made in the context of a Master course in Creative Documentary we were all taking in Barcelona. In this context, we underwent processes of selection and based on this, we started working in groups of three to investigate, develop and work out the ideas. That’s when Anna Carolina, Giselle and I started working together. The theme was new for Giselle and I, but the more we investigated and get to know these women the more we got conscious and passionate about it, which make it possible for us to work in great harmony and to have, more and more, the necessity of hearing these converted women and of trying to understand their reality and what the complexity of the other can be. When the other girls joined us in the last three months of the project, they already knew the idea and we could all work well together.
Giselle Avilés-Maldonado (G.A.M.): As the girls said this started as the continuation of an idea that Anna Carolina had. Already in the group, my motivation behind the documentary was the wish to learn all the great differences in Culture. Being born in Puerto Rico, a country that has a very small Muslim community, where we praise difference and the use of the veil is not an issue, getting to know the lives of these women was a beautiful process. In every thing I learned there was a bit of history, spirituality, motherhood, family, education, music, art, and so on. I really enjoyed the creative process and it also made me wanting to learn more about Arab countries.

Have you had to deal with difficulties to collect the testimonies of these women?

G.A.M.: Anna Carolina, having worked in Brazil with Muslim women, made the first contact. The book she co-authored was a presentation card of our future work for these women.
A.C.N.: Yes, the first contact with them was possible because I had already worked on a book about Muslim women in which the general point of view was a neutral one, so that they trusted the same would happen this time. Still, gaining their trust was not that easy. We spent a lot of time with them before starting recording and the project took us a total of nine months to get done.
D.P.: Well, apart from what Anna Carolina and Giselle comment, I think we had the difficulties one can have when trying to do deep interviews that suppose a very personal and intimate effort from the interviewee to answer to your questions. The women we talked to had to face at some point or were still facing a lot of doubts and fears about the conversion to Islam. Many times the same person who is getting interested in the religion and thinking about converting can’t understand the own interest and why. It’s a delicate process. There’s also the fear related to how the society and the family and friends environment will react to it. So, it supposed intimate interviews with the challenges this involves.

Was it easier as women to approach them? 

A.C.N.: Actually, I think it was only possible to do this documentary because we are women. For example, mosques have separate spaces for men and women. Or, in the case of the one we used to go, which was very small, men and women uses to go at different times. Our work would have been much more limited and much less intimate if there were men involved.
D.P: Definitely. As we were all women, we could have more intimacy with them. Also, as they meet separately in the mosques, for example, the fact that we are women made it possible for us to be there with them.  Again, in occasions when women get together separately from man, as in some celebrations, as women we were able to participate.
G.A.M: Yes, I believe it was easier for both parts. They were very warming and nice. I believe the fact that we were students also helped us…
D.P.: But independent of that, regarding the approaching process, in a away it wasn’t very easy, it was a long process of insertion into the group until we gained mutual trust. On one hand, as I said before, some of the women hadn’t make it publicly already, so it’s normal to have doubts about appearing in a documentary. Some of them had also had bad experiences in the past with people who approached them with one speech but ended up with distorted works. On the other hand, little by little, we got to know each other and once we got mutual trust, they were absolutely generous and helpful.

Mostly women are converting to Islam. Did you also meet men and what kind of approach did they have? 

D.P: Yes, we also met converted men, but as it wasn’t our focus, we didn’t really deepen the investigation about them, so I can’t really answer your question. But I can say that the religion is more controversial and polemic for women in the way Western society sees it, so that I suppose the kind of difficulties men and women face when converting to Islam are different.
G.A.M: Actually, especially in one of the mosques we used to go, there were many converted men, but we didn’t really approach them. Since the documentary was the final project of a Master’s degree, with constraints of time, dates and recording material we had to limit our choices, our focus was on the women. But yes, I would have loved to learn about their process also.
A.C.N: We did meet men, but as our intention for this documentary was to work only with women, our approach was superficial with them.

How are the society, medias and the political sphere tackling this subject in Catalonia? 

G.A.M.: I believe the opinion is mixed. Some people accept the individual choices we have for living our life, including religion, and others believe it’s a matter of defending their culture. But Culture, in its essence, changes!
A.C.N: Politically, Spain, in general, tries to have a multicultural approach to the issue. For example, the veil is not forbidden. Mosques are not forbidden, but they can’t be built with public money. On the other hand, the majority of the schools don’t provide halal meat for their muslin students. The laws regarding this subject are not decided by region, but by the Spanish general government, so they comprise also Catalonia.
D.P.:  As for the Media, I think we have to be very careful about the information we get, as media can be very manipulative sometimes or be influenced by certain events at certain periods, lacking of balance in the way news are given. Islamism, as other religions, has different interpretations and tendencies and its followers can follow one or another, so it’s very complicate to generalize. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, for example, a thesis known as the Lewis and Huntington theory got very popular and was wrongly used by the Western media to try to explain those shocking attacks. Very briefly speaking – as the theory is more complex than that– the thesis says that after the Cold War, the world was divided in two, a unitary Islamic culture opposed to a unitary West, so that the world is experiencing a “clash of civilizations”, a battle between the good West and the evil Islam. After the 9/11, a great number of journalists adopted this Manichean view, and articles inspired by this idea were published in media vehicles as important as the Newsweek, The New York Times or the Economist, among others. These two scholars turned to culture for geopolitical explanation, neglecting conflicts over money, property, politics, corporation interests, minority and majority interests, other cultures and so on. And even though, this grotesque generalization is still now used to explain different events. So, this is an example of how media can promote certain ideas and I think this happens in the whole world, so that Catalonia is also affected.

How is the audience reacting until now to you documentary? 

G.A.M.: I’m very glad it has had a great feedback. Some people tell me they respect very much, for example, Verónica (the blond girl) for having the courage to express all her fears publicly. As for Xantal and Leticia people tell me they looked very at ease with the decision they’ve made.
A.C.N.: Very well, actually! It is interesting to see how people have curiosity to know more about the Islam and the Muslims, because most of them doesn´t know almost anything about this reality. And they always say they want to see and know more about it after watching the documentary, what makes us very happy as the documentary is able, at list, to call the attention for the subject.
D.P.: Generally we have a good feedback, but it varies a lot. It is interesting to realize how different countries or contexts have different reactions, and I think it has to do with different personal backgrounds, convictions and beliefs. Most of the time, people tell us it would be great to see more, but we also heard that it was too long, once or twice. It generated polemic debates in some screenings, but also kind compliments. Somehow I feel that if it generates debates and leads people to think about the subject, that’s a good result.

What do you think about the banning of the veil in public spaces in your neighbouring country France?

G.A.M.: This would be a long answer since I believe the response can be find within the long colonial period that France had. But to keep it simple, I live in Paris, France, and I see many women everyday wearing veils but I’ve never seen a woman wearing a face-covering veil, which it’s the forbidden one in public spaces. To me this politic of fear about other customs goes back to what I said earlier…Culture changes, you can’t view it as static…
A.C.N.: I agree with what Giselle said. For me the fear and the prejudice are based on the distorted news and the ignorance about different culture and customs.
D.P:  This is always a difficult issue to analyze. If we think of globalization, a concept we’ve been talking about at least for the last two decades, we should suppose a multicultural society, where the interchange of worldviews would be a reality and different aspects of culture would be accepted. But when you listen to Angela Merkel, for example, saying that the attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany has “utterly failed” and blaming the immigrants for that, you realize that the real integration of cultures is far from being a reality and of course, religious traditions and customs are almost always a kind of taboo. The use of the Islamic veil is one of these controversial aspects and different countries have different rules. Turkey, for example, which is a Muslim-majority country, has banned the veil in public schools and universities or government buildings since 1997. As for other religious symbols, we can mention Italy, that a few years ago underwent an inflamed discussion about the use of the Christian cross in schools and Courts of Laws. In this context, France is not an exception and as Giselle said, Culture is not something static, it changes, but sometimes the society takes time to give a response for that.

Are you considering working together on another project?

D.P.:  The team worked well for this project, but at the moment, each of us is living in different cities or countries and is dedicating ourselves to different projects, so it’s difficult to say if we will have the opportunity of working together again. If so, it would be really great.
A.C.N.: Living this experience together was really intense for us, so why not working together in the future in other projects?
G.A.M.: Yes, of course!  
August 2012
Interview by Lucile Gasber
To capture the musical atmosphere of the documentary, visit


  1. Merci pour l'entretien, Lucile ! My best wishes for the Festival, congrats !

  2. Thanks !
    All the best for you documentary, hope it will continue to travel and will be shared.