Click here to learn more about A Slim Peace and to view clips of the movie
Q: How did you get your start in filmmaking?
A: I started in media at first. I was a television news producer and journalist. I quickly realized I didn’t like hard news stories, but preferred features. I first started doing internships at CNN when I was in college, and then my first job was in Jerusalem …
Q: What drew you to documentary filmmaking?
A: I was interested in news and reality … I’m interested in storytelling and I have a real desire to tell something …
Q: Many of the women immediately tell you the dieting group is political just by the nature of their identities. Did you know this going into it?
A: Yes. I had to choose or cast the women, as I would cast a fictional film. I had to choose women that would represent part of the conflict. I also had to choose women who were real people who were willing to share their lives and stories and I’m very grateful to the women who did. In terms of the dynamic and who would get along … that was out of my control. Once I chose the women, I was very careful to make sure that whatever happened, happened, so that it was real for the audience—and real in terms of the stories they told. After that, they were on their own!
Q: How did you find these women?
A: We created the group ourselves … a lot of research went into it.
Q: I read that your inspiration for the film was that you were trying to lose weight in 2000 when the peace process broke down and the idea came together. Is this true?
A: That’s true … I think it’s hard for anyone in this day and age to feel good about your body, considering all the images we have which aren’t real … I don’t have one woman friend or male friend [who doesn’t feel the same] … I was losing weight at the time and I was working with Israelis and Palestinians at the time … I just connected the two … I’m passionate about peace in the Middle East and I wanted to bring together women who normally never meet.
All women struggle with it [body image] … The body is not arbitrary. Bodies can evoke so many emotions: it means victory, failure, and pain … It’s very loaded and so human … that was the impetus. We wanted to connect something that intimate and loaded with something as painful, like conflict …
Q: Did you find yourself relating to certain women more than others, in terms of personality?
A: Sure! I’m human … But in my job as a director on the film, my biggest concern and priority was to remain neutral—and I really wanted to make a film that was balanced and that expressed people as they are, with no manipulation, no agenda …
Q: What surprised you about some of the women?
A: Lots of things … Because of the reality of the Middle East, things change all the time, on a weekly basis. Within the time we were there, Hamas was elected, Ariel Sharon went into the hospital, etc. … So, within even the span of the program, the whole political reality changed. So, there’s that and then how people react to it … what was surprising and what comes out in the film is how the women then react to Hamas being elected … that’s when people have a real fight, argue, and really let out their differences … The other thing that was surprising and heart wrenching is to see how quickly people can get along. Peace is totally possible. You put people in a room together and they find things in common …
Q: What risks, if any, do you think you were taking in making a film like this?
A: A lot of risks were involved. First of all, you can fail, like in anything. This was a crazy, wacky idea I had; it wasn’t clear if it could translate into a film. Are the characters going to be of interest, will the story hold? … There’s a risk about whether they’re [the women] willing to meet. And after they had a fight, would they come back? … Security risks, that’s just fear. That’s people’s perception, the media …
Q: At one point, Aviva (Israeli) comments that she has more in common with the Palestinians in the room than the American settlers. Do you think her sentiment is pretty common?
A: It’s much more common than people think. Israelis and Palestinians have a lot more in common than they have differences. I really believe that if only they were more different, but because we’re cousins, because we have so much in common, it’s like sibling rivalry …
Q: How did you change during the course of the film?
A: … I feel very inspired … We’re going to set up more slim peace groups of women coming together in places of conflict … We’re getting a team together with the same model … [through Charities Advisories Trust] … The only thing that’s impossible is the thing that’s untried. Deep down maybe, it’s made me more of a believer, on a spiritual level …
Q: The women had so much in common, including a need to control or feel good about their bodies. In a way, it’s similar for their need to have control over the conflict in the Middle East. Is there a correlation?
A: That came up in my research … Yes, the desire to control your body and your weight is a very seductive thing, especially when other things in your life are out of your control … Also there’s a real correlation between the need to control your weight with the birth control pill in 1965. It’s when Twiggy and super-thin models came about … When society can no longer control your reproductive life, then you can also control your appearance, your diet, health … So, if you live in a place like the Middle East, where so many things are out of your control, it’s really desirable to want to control your body. But it doesn’t have to be so extreme as living in a conflict zone. Even if you have an unfortunate event that happens in your family, like death or a relationship ending … that’s [controlling your weight] the one thing you can keep steady …
Q: What’s your advice to future women filmmakers?
A: Keep it coming from the heart. It has to come from the heart and your passion, to tell stories that you love. I think women have a real capacity [to tell stories] … it’s incredibly hard but incredibly worthwhile … Everyone has their strengths and disadvantages. I would not let any of that sway you if you really love film.
Q: What are your strengths?
A: Passion and tenacity!
Q: Were you surprised that the women did not meet up at the end of the film?
A: No. I think it’s hard for all of us to step out of our own shell, from the world that we know—whether we are Chinese and live in Chinatown or Jewish and live in the Upper West side. It means we have to work a bit harder and that peace is still possible.
Q: What were the criteria in choosing the women?
A: They needed to be characters, have depth, intelligence. You needed to want to watch them.
Q: How many women rejected the idea when you told them about it?
A: A good number, but the majority wanted to participate and in the end. I had two thirds more than I needed. So that is a good sign for peace!