This blog post was written by Shelley Saywell, TVO's Featured Filmmaker whose retrospective starts today.
“Shahira” was made on a shoe string. Deb Parks (then a camera assistant) and I needed to do our first film on or own - otherwise we’d never get chance. Only 4 percent of funding, at that time, went to women directors - we had to prove we could do it.
A kind administrator at TVO took pity on us and gave us $2,000 for “Shahira,” I think so we’d leave him alone! When we finished the film and tried to deliver it, I couldn't get through to him –he’d completely forgotten about the documentary and thought I wanted to ask for money for a film! When he finally saw it he was shocked! “You made it, it’s really good!”
We sold the documentary to channel 4 in the U.K and 20 other countries.
Looking back it was the beginning of my exploration of strong women fighting through barriers, living through conflict, and how they saw the world and were changing it. It was about human rights. These are the themes I keep coming back to.
To make the film we made three trips to Egypt and spent five weeks camping and filming in the Sahara, shooting on 16 millimeter. We learned every lesson you can- from patience, endurance, to keeping an open mind about story - seeing what was there, not what you are looking for.
It was one of the great adventures of my life!