Interview with Zeina Durra, Director of The Imperialists Are Still Alive!

Featured in the competition lineup of last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Zeina Durra’s debut feature The Imperialists Are Still Alive! opens this Friday. The film stars Elodie Bouchez as a European-born Arabic artist living in the tense multicultural melting pot of post-9/11 New York City. I spoke with Durra about politics, art imitating life, and her love for a European director (whose films can be seen on Fandor).

Is it fair to say that this is a very autobiographical film? Your cultural background and the cultural background of the movie’s heroine are very similar.

Yeah, it totally is. I didn’t used to say that, but now I just say it. Obviously, there are elements in there that aren’t [autobiographical], but the themes in it are.


Writer and director Zeina Durra

The film presents a very interesting and unique cross-section of New York that you don’t often see: the affluent Upper West Side, the downtown gallery world, and underground clubs. Did you also move between those contrasting worlds?

Yeah, that was my world, and I feel like it’s a lot of people’s worlds in New York. I know it was kind of done a little bit in After Hours (by Martin Scorsese) and it was touched upon to a certain degree in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, but how I lived in New York has never really been shown in film and I really wanted to show that.


Do you consider this a very political film?

I don’t think it’s a political film per se. I wanted to see how one’s daily life is affected by politics. It’s about how any moment can be completely frivolous and completely urgent at the same time. When Lebanon was being bombed in 2006,  I was on the phone to my friend who had just moved from Mott Street in Nolita to Beirut with her husband, and she’d just had a baby. She was like “Oh, I’m a bit worried…” And then a bomb went off, and I could hear it on the phone. She’s like, “I gotta go because I’ve got see where that hit.” Meanwhile, I’m in New York in a cafe getting my Americano.

I know that you are a real cinephile. Are there any directors on Fandor that you are particularly fond of?

I saw Everything for Sale at Lincoln Center a couple of years back at a retrospective of Andrzej Wajda films.What I really loved about it were the scenes of the dislocated partying, those long scenes where they were all dancing. It was way that he focuses on the dislocation of the environment, which I think is really hard to do without being cheesy, but he did it brilliantly. There’s a moment where they all end up at this party and there’s so much meaning in the way that one of the characters is dancing. By his shot structure, Wajda manages to convey everything about her: what she wants and what she needs and what she’s feeling. Just from the way she dances. It’s just one of the most genius things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Nick Dawson is a frequent contributor to FilmMaker magazine and is the author of Being Hal Ashby.

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