Making an an accomplished debut at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize in the world cinema category, Elite Zexer’s Sand Storm was named Best Film at the Ophir Awards—Israel’s version of the Academy Awards—while picking up a number of other accolades on the festival circuit. Subsequently, the drama was submitted as Israel’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars, entering a pool of 85 contenders competing for five coveted slots.
If Sand Storm is nominated, it would be the 11th film representing Israel at the Oscars. A meditation on the binds presented by the unchangeable rules of cultural tradition, Zexer’s feature directorial debut follows the lives of two Bedouin women—mother and daughter—whose lives come undone as they move against the societal grain.
Speaking with Deadline senior editor Dominic Patten following an Awardsline screening of the film, Zexer detailed the origins of the film in her mother’s photographic passion project. “She started taking photos of Bedouin villages ten years ago. She went from being a fly on the wall to being the complete opposite in a matter of seconds,” Zexer explained. “She met a lot of people that she became very, very good friends with, and she started caring very much about them. She started spending all her time in different villages, and it came to the point that she spent so much time there that if you wanted to see my mom, you had to come with her.”
Spending time with her mother in these villages, Zexer got to know a number of Bedouin women intimately, hearing their stories about marriage and rigid cultural traditions, requiring that the parents pick their daughter’s suitor. “One of these ladies was a young woman who was one of the first in her village to go out to university. She met a young man at university and fell in love, which is not allowed,” she continued. “Her family found out and they told her, you can’t go out to university. She has to stay home, and she has to marry the man that they choose for her.”
In the video above, Zexer relays vividly events from the woman’s life, which mirror powerful events in the film, and the effect that this woman’s story had on her.
Sand Storm bows on Netflix on December 15.