“There needs to be more nuanced portrayals of women in general. And not just nuanced, but raw, authentic women that may not be likable characters” says filmmaker Rita Baghdadi. Her new documentary follows the Middle East’s first female metal band, Slaves to Sirens, as they navigate relationships with each other, their sexualities, heteronormative familial and societal expectations put on them, musical success, and political rebellion. The film premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. 

Rita Baghdadi, director of Sirens, an official selection of the World Cinema: Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jeremiah Hammerling.

How did you meet the women of Slaves to Sirens and decide to make a film with them?

I met them pretty organically through their music. They had just put out their EP in 2018 and I sort of stumbled across it and was blown away by their talent. Later, I found a picture of them online where there were all five young women standing in a forest in Lebanon wearing all black, and I saw one of them on the left side of the frame, who happened to be Lilas, and she had her arms crossed and she was looking all angsty. I remember thinking I have to meet these young women! 

The other side to this story is it was around a time when I was really looking for a film to portray Arab people from the Middle East/North Africa where my family is from, in Morocco. I really wanted an opportunity to counteract the negative stereotypes that I grew up with about that region on film. [I wanted to] especially connect to young women in the region. So this felt too good to be true. I contacted the girls online, and struck up a conversation with Lilas specifically, and we just hit it off. We video chatted for hours and we talked about everything. Then the band invited me to come stay and film for a little bit, and that’s how it all started.

You really spear-headed this film, but I noticed that the other members of the crew and in post-production are mostly women. And obviously the film features women from Slaves to Sirens. I was wondering if you could talk about the deeper meaning of female-led artistic practices in the Middle East? Why is that meaningful both personally and broadly?

Uplifting other women, and uplifting particularly women of color is something I’m dedicated to. I mentor, I try to give back as much as I take, especially within the industry. I don’t only make films about women, but I do feel like there needs to be more nuanced portrayals of women in general. And not just nuanced, but raw, authentic women that may not be likable characters

Behind the camera to have a team that was almost all female was important to me whenever possible. I found the best women that could do the job. I don’t think the film would be the same, or half as intimate, if we had a male sound person for example. Being in a safe space with all women was really important to the storytelling.

You can listen to the full interview on the Faux Reel podcast episode Sirens with Rita Baghdadi.

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