Dina Amer is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. She helped produce the Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning documentary “The Square,” which chronicled the Egyptian Revolution from the frontlines. Growing up between the U.S. and Egypt, her work has focused on sharing nuanced, human stories with a global audience. Previous to her film work, Amer was a journalist, and worked as an on-air correspondent for VICE, including “Black Market,” a series that saw her uncovering the human trafficking of Syrian refugees and that explored the underground economy of illegal Egypt-Gaza tunnels. Her written work has been published in The New York Times, CNN, and the Huffington Post. “Tu Me Ressembles” (“You Resemble Me”) is her directorial debut.
“Tu Me Ressembles” (“You Resemble Me”)” will premiere at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival on September 8. The fest is taking place September 1-11.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
DA: “You Resemble Me” is about two sisters on the outskirts of Paris. After the girls are abruptly separated, the eldest, Hasna, struggles to find her identity and place in the world.
The film explores the unexamined roots of trauma and the devastating decision that Hasna ultimately makes in the name of survival and belonging.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
DA: I was drawn to the opportunity to take a real headline that is about a politically sensitive topic and reframe the story through a human lens that gives the audience the experience of stepping into Hasna’s shoes. I felt I could deconstruct a violent news cycle through a cinematic lens that allowed people to experience this narrative differently — through a grey and complicated humanity that hopefully they could see themselves through.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
DA: I want the audience to embody the humanity of a woman we dismiss as a monster and to experience what it feels like to be in her skin. I want them to see themselves in the villain and understand that we are complicit in creating cycles of violence within our society.
I want the viewer to reflect on their own dissociative behavior, the many faces we hold and interchange depending on our surroundings and, at certain moments, just to feel loved and accepted.
After watching the film, I want people to be inspired to actually talk about the deeper issues — the root of why someone gets enchanted by radical organizations as a means of survival or belonging, the realities of household trauma and family fragmentation, and the feelings of dissociation.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
DA: The biggest challenge of the film was making a movie on this very subject. The fact that this is inspired by a true story and is a very politically sensitive subject drew me to it because I saw the opportunity to reframe this story through a human lens. Because it’s a highly sensitive topic, I really had to persevere to gain my independence to create this film in my vision and on my own terms without anyone’s interference on what is politically acceptable.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
DA: I walked away from a big studio deal in order to maintain my creative vision. I was fortunate that I was able to fund this film through independent investors who believed in my vision and the importance of this story.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
DA: I had grown very disenchanted with my work as a journalist, and I didn’t feel like I was creating more unity in the world through journalism.
The power of cinema is so immediate, electric, and transformative in that it allows people to meet each other in a very intimate setting through the following of a character’s emotional arc. Cinema allows us to shift our preconceived ideas about ourselves and others and can make people feel a little less alone in this world. Accordingly, I chose to dedicate myself to a craft that has the power to evoke greater compassion and unity in the world.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
DA: Worst advice: The majority of people told me to just agree to a deal even if it compromises your creative vision because it will help you make your next film.
Best advice: Pray on it, then make the film you want to make — period. Spike Lee said this to me at a critical time when the majority of people were saying just take the deal. They were telling me it’s a bird in the hand, this might be your only shot, think about your career, etc. Spike’s words of wisdom allowed me to trust myself more deeply in a very critical moment on the film’s journey.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
DA: Follow your vision. Trust yourself. You are making this film for a reason, and it is an incredible opportunity for an audience to see the world through your eyes. Double down on your instincts, work with people you love and who inspire you, and most importantly enjoy yourself — this artform is a gift and a privilege.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
DA: There are too many masterful films directed by women — it’s hard to just mention one!
I would say in direct connection to “You Resemble Me,” Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” Sally Potter’s “Orlando,” and Alma Har’el’s “Bombay Beach” were definitely inspirations.
I am a lover of their work and their courage to tell stories that take bold creative leaps and strive for absolute cinematic excellence.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
DA: Yes, I am definitely keeping creative. As my late grandmother always said, “When there is a will, there is a way!” I was fortunate that, even through the pandemic, I was able to continue writing, directing, and working with my editors to complete this film! Zoom screen-share editing came in handy!
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
DA: During the making of “You Resemble Me,” I experienced firsthand the lack of opportunities in film that plague people of color, particularly in France. I went to France to make the movie, committed to making it with people of color from the community that this film is about, and I struggled to find people to hire because the cinema world in France has a highly elitist culture that is predominantly run and controlled by white people.
People scoffed at me when I arrived saying I want to hire people of color who know what it feels like to be “the other.” I was told, “This is filmmaking, not the United Nations.” Thankfully I was able to make this film predominantly with the underserved community of Black and Arab Muslims that live in the outskirts of Paris, and I’m very proud that I was able to make it in this way. I think the film feels that much more authentic because it was made by the very community that it is about.
I believe that the ‘hood outside Paris is bursting with talent, new perspectives, and tenacity; I personally only know how to work within teams that are inclusive and representative of underserved communities.
I think we need to do more to invest in communities with people of color so they have the same opportunities to tell their stories on their own terms.