Hair: The Story of Grass

Hair: The Story of Grass (2018, 15 min, dark comedy) شعر: قصة عشب 

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بعد أن تخلى عنها أميرها، تخدم سندريلا الضيوف، بينما يحاول بيتربان الفرار من الجسد الذي حُبس فيه

Abandoned by her prince, an Arabian Cinderella is left serving guests. Meanwhile, her mentally-challenge warden attempts to escape the body of the hairy grown up he is trapped in. The film explores societal attitudes towards beauty standards and hairiness.

“Cultural attitudes towards beauty standards are exhaustively unpacked in this delirious satire, about how hair dictates the social mobility of a put-upon caretaker and her intellectually challenged ward.” – Peter Kuplowsky, Fantastic Fest

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hair-poster-maha-20190702

Poster design by @m.drawing12 / @b_a_2017 and Maha.

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Official Festival Selections:

  1. Fantastic Fest 2018’s Shorts with Legs , Austin, TX, USA (20-27 Sep 2018)
  2. Courts Mais Trash 2019, Brussels, Belgium (16-20 Jan, 2019).
  3. Slamdance 2019, Narrative Shorts, Park City, UT, USA (25-31 Jan 2019)
  4. Saudi Film Festival 2019, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (21-26 Mar 2019)
  5. Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands (27-31 March 2019).
  6. 10th Beirut Cinema Days أيام بيروت السينمائية, Lebanon (29 March – 6 Apr, 2019)
  7. Chattanooga Film Festival 2019, Tennessee, USA (11-14 Apr 2019)
  8. Falcon Art Festival at the Netherlands Embassy in Saudi (18-17 Apr 2019) <123>
  9. The 14th Arab Film Festival Outside-The-Box Short films program at The Arab American National Museum (AANM) 2019, Michigan, USA (7-16 Jun 2019)
  10. New Filmmakers LA Monthly Film Festival – July edition (27 Jul 2019) InFocus Canadian Cinema #1

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The film explores society’s attitudes towards human hair: desirable head hair, excess body hair that is viewed with disgust, and facial hair that is used as a definition of masculinity. Both of the two main characters are defined by one of these hair-related categories. Yassir, the mentally challenged man refuses to grow up and longs to play with children, but is considered a man due to his beard and is therefore viewed with suspicion when approaching children. Meanwhile, Norah, his caregiver is deemed ugly due to her hairy legs and her unruly head hair. The film sheds light on issues of gender, beauty standards and oppression towards the mentally challenged.

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Hair The Story of Grass Discussion during the AANM Film Festival (08-Jun-2019)

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في حقبة بداية الألفية وعصر دخول الإنترنت، تجد نورة ذاتها حبيسة منزل حجازي تقليدي و ابنة متبناة لامرأة متسلطة، حيث مهربها الوحيد هو الزواج من أبو شنب. تشعر نورة بعدم الثقة في ذاتها وسط أعراف اجتماعية تجسد شعر الجسد المرغوب، المقبول أو المنبوذ. تعيش نورة كسندريلا معاصرة: تنظف، تخدم الضيوف بينما تأمرها الأم المتسلطة بتغطية شعرها، غير عابئة برغبتها أن تكون جميلة كقريناتها. ليزيد الطين بلة، تهتم نورة بإبن مربيتها -ياسر- والذي يعاني من تأخر في نمو العقل. يعيش ياسر بريئا كطفل يتوق للعب مع الأطفال، بينما يمنعه جسده البالغ من الاختلاط بهم حيث يعد “رجلا” في نظر المجتمع. كما تحركه رغبات غير مفهومة بأن يلمس شعر البنات، التصرف الذي يسيء فهمه الكبار فيفسرونه تحرشا. تصارع نورة الكبت العاطفي فتتحول إلى وحش غاضب يصب جام خيبته في ياسر. وفي لحظة ضعف ترثي موت عشب حديقتهم الخضراء التي تحولت إلى سجن اسمنتي مع التمدن العمراني السريع، والذي تشبهه برغبتنا في تخليص أجسادنا من الشعر رغبة في التحضر والقبول الاجتماعي. يروي الفلم قصة واقعية تسلط الضوء على شخصيتين حقيقيتين مهمشتين في المجتمع.

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Special Invitation Screenings/Events

  • Special screening at the German Embassy of Saudi Arabia (18 Jan 2018)

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Reviews

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Plot:

Norah is a young adopted woman who is treated like a Cinderella by her harsh adoptive mother. Nora dreams of leaving the house by marrying her sweetheart, Abu Shanab. She is also in charge of taking care of her adoptive mother’s biological son, Yassir, who is mentally challenged. During a visit of her sweetheart Abu Shanab, young Yassir accidentally reveals her hairy legs, making Abu Shanab disgusted. Nora desperately tries to win Abu Shanab back years later through messenger, but he rejects her. She takes out her frustration on Yassir. Yassir is also desperate to become a child and play with other children, and thinks that the only way of doing so is by shaving his facial hair. He also cannot control his urge to touch little girl’s hair, a gesture that is often misinterpreted by adults and gets him in trouble. Finally, Abu Shanab visits their house only to break Nora’s heart further by bringing a beautiful bride. Things turn into chaos in the house, as Yassir runs into a room full of female guests, who treat him as a grown man and scream to cover up from him. After getting lock in his room, Yassir takes out his frustration on Abu Shanab while seeing him in the garden, and spits on him, avenging Nora. Nora becomes content by this insult to her ex-sweetheart, and decides to give Yassir a facial shave as a reward. He is content, because he thinks he became a child again.

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Theme of the Land

One of the themes of this film is the issue of urbanisation. What inspired it is the increasing urbanisation and the destroying of green land, the removal of grass and the cutting of trees. Although it is alluded to poetically in this film. Those once grassy fields, are likened to the removal of body hair in hopes of civilising it. Body hair is shaved, and so is grass removed. In one scene, the protagonist mentions that “As the palm tree tree, the grass underneath it wilted. We too will grow up, and the hair on our bodies will wether. This was a statement I heard my mother once say about the trees growth, blocking the sun from reaching the grass underneath it. therefore leading to the grass’ death. I believe this poetic exploration of the relationship to the land is one that will touch viewers who love the language of metaphor.

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CREDITS  اسماء أعضاء الفريق

hair-buisnesscard-back.png

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Where the idea came from

The idea came to me when I started receiving text messages from the university about hair removal with laser surgery, and being critical of the media around us, I started wondering about the changing role of the educational institute, from being conservative, motherly or patriarchal in its care about women covering up, to it becoming increasingly commercial in allowing businesses to advertise their products through text messages like these. (there was once a message about a dental clinic and the ad TEXT message sent by the university mentioned “have a hollywood smile”. That was an interesting shift since Hollywood, in the conservative 90s and early 2000s in this region, was considered a symbol or moral decay in society. So for me, I always reflected on the shift in ideologies and how it slowly made its ways into our daily lives and even educational institutes in such ways.

But then there was my own personal take on hair too. Over a year after finishing hair, I once realised, as my mom was talking to a guest about her old profession with removing hair through electrolysis (electric needles). She studied in the States in the 70s. She brought back the equipment when they moved back to Saudi Arabia and has customers come to have their facial hair removed in her house. I was a child in the 80s when I used to watch her remove the unwanted facial hair of her clients. Some of the customers were very hairy, and while watching my mom with a client, I once asked her “Are you going to remove ALL THAT HAIR?” my mom got angry for this rude statement in front of her client and told me to leave the room. I was young, I didn’t know what I said wrong, we get into a lot of trouble as kids while we are still learning about social norms concerning what to say and what to keep to ourselves.

We endured hair removal “tortures” since an early age, but body hair removal didn’t stop at that. When we went to high school, we had to also shape our eyebrows to look pretty. Now I realize that thinning the eyebrows makes you look older and less natural, so I stopped doing it years later. But while we did it, there was a battle between us and religious teachings against the plucking of eyebrows (justified by the fact that it is changing God’s creation as intended). Lots of religious women would bleach or even shave it instead of plucking (because the religious text specifically mention “plucking”). The obsession with the eyebrow shaping was still very common. Arab, Persian, and Indian societies are usually hairy, and that is why you find these cultures inventing all kinds of hair removal products.

As for the development of the characters and the role of gender, I initially started off with the main male character: “Yasser”, after Aziz, the lead actor, told me about his brother, who suffered from a condition in which his brain and cognitive abilities were not fully developed. He thought he was still 17 when he was well into his mid 20s, he couldn’t socialize with adults and so he he preferred to play with young children, especially young girls. He was innocent, but he had an urge to touch their soft hair. This would often be interpreted as predatory behaviour by parents who see him without understanding that he has a mental disability, as he appeared normal. He also hated having facial hair. I interpreted as an indication that he doesn’t want to grow up, like Peter pan. This reminded me of how intriguing the relation between the young girl and the mentally challenged man in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. It was borderline disturbing, yet innocent and honest. When I heard the story, I let it cook in the back of my head. Then I saw Christopher Nolan’s first short film “Doodlebug” about a man trapped in a small claustrophobic place and hitting a small bug. I thought I’d make something like it, with the boy trapped with his urges to remove his own hair and touch other children’s hair. Since I didn’t have much experience, no matter how much research I tried to do on intellectually disabled people, I relied completely on the actor to shape the character who is based on his brother. I added the girl character so that she can reverse the role of women being victims to a woman being an oppressor. But then the actor got busy with other projects and did not respond during my script development stage, and so the girl’s character grew. She didn’t have a name at first, then during rehearsals, the actress said we have to give her a name, and so I did. I tend to minimize dialogues because they often bore me if not done well in movies. And even with characters, I tend to make them concepts, rather than characters with names, so it was easy to continue working on the script without having a name since it is never called out. But we did end up giving her a generic name, Nada, because I dislike having weird names. I want her to be the most common kind of person, despite her issue in the film being very specific.

Naturally, I would know a lot about female characters than male characters, so she grew and became the main character. I am comfortable with that. I initially set off to make her a monster, but later on, I made her more human. Even in the part where she looks at the guy she loves the first time, I feel sad because I know how it feels like to be young and full of hopes and dreams about the future, and that scene was hard for me to edit, because I knew she will turn into a monster later on in the film, and she will take out her frustrations on the young boy. The mother was more of a caricature of a mother who is never there. Same with her love interest, he is only a caricature of a man. I asked a friend to write the advertisements to make the film a bit funnier, as I worried it might end up being depressing, like my previous film “Fear: Audibly”

This is the account of the girl who did the poster illustration. Her name is Momena. I loved her illustrations because it reminded me of the children’s magazine (Majid magazine) I used to read when I was a child in the 80s. I wanted the poster to have a childlike feel, because this project was very nostalgic. We shot it in the house I grew up in. It also reflects the childlike feel of the main characters. Her illustration style was very nostalgic to me, as it reminded me of محيي الدين اللباد and بهجت عثمان bahgat osman, whose works I’ve known through Majid magazine of the 80s and 90s.

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