The self-confident Israeli director Elite Zexer gave very direct and straight-forward remarks about making her debut film Sand Storm (Sufat Chol). It took her eight years to write the script and that is one of the key elements why this film is so wonderful. Zexer said that her mother is a professional photographer and has been doing a series of Bedouin portraits. At the same time she has bonded with many of the people there. That opened the door for her to contact them. She observed the traditional ways of life and its rules which are now navigating, and even clashing with, the modern world where the rules are completely different. Zexer explained that these tribes live on the side of the highways; you may drive pass them and not even notice that they are there. What is worse, is that their infrastructure is very basic. They don’t have electricity. They have to use a generator and water is often a problem. She illustrates that in her film hopefully to open the eyes of communities around them who might be able to improve these people’s lives. This is only one of several topics that she covers in her film.
The film opens with Suliman (Hitham Omari), who allows his daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) many freedoms, e.g., getting a driver’s license and attending university, all unusual for this community. She believes herself to be a modern, young woman with no special rules. But the world of Layla, as well as her mother Jalila (Blal-Asfour), is about to blow apart when her father, who is not a strong decision maker, is put under pressure to take a second wife. Elite Zexer couldn’t have picked a more appropriate title then Sand Storm (Sufat Chol). As one grain of sand is picked up in the wind it can soon evolve into a sand storm that changes the landscape in minutes, and that is exactly what happens to this Bedouin family’s lives, as the husband makes the choice. Zener says that, legally, it is not allowed to have a second wife in Israel, but it is quite common among the Bedouin people. It is clear that the first wife must honor this marriage, and yet her anger slowly comes to the surface, while the couple is on its honeymoon. The generator breaks, which means the refrigerator stops working; they have to clean clothes by hand and the house is clearly falling apart, next to the newly built house of the second wife, which has many luxuries. Jalila clearly assumes the energy of the storm, which falls more apart, when she and her husband discover the Layla’s secret relationship. Her young man from the university has noble intentions, but since he didn’t take the correct traditional way to acknowledge his feelings, he loses any chance of marriage to her. Suliman seee only one way out: decide whom she will marry even though both women are against it.
Zener said, “I met a young woman who had a similar problem as my protagonist and my answer to making a possible change for the future was this film.” I asked her about the script because it was so poignant and captured so much with every sentence. She said that it took her eight years to create the script. She worked very hard on it because she had a successful first short film that was seen in more than 100 festivals so she wanted her first full-length film to follow in the same way. She had high expectations to get it right. The community helped her in correcting her views, to make sure she understood their culture. She corrected many scenes as well as attitudes of the characters. She said that they thought the husband should have been more strict and, all in all, they saw this film more as comedy than drama. She worked with four different villages. This is a film that should not be missed and I am looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next. She is clearly on the move, a female director whom we should all keep our eyes on.