Director Deborah Perkin Discusses Her Film ‘Bastards’

Bastards JpegThis article was originally published on partner site The Intelligent Review in August 2014 before being transferred over to The New Idealist site in July 2015.

Bastards is a powerful documentary by award-winning documentary maker Deborah Perkin.  The story follows a spirited young woman who took on tradition, her own family and the Moroccan legal system for the sake of her illegitimate child in this brilliantly immersive film, which was funded following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Having created a strong contender for ‘Best Documentary of The Year’, TheIntelligentReview spoke to the talented film maker to find out more…

Can you tell us a bit about your new documentary?

It’s the story of an extraordinary young woman – Rabha El Haimer – who is illiterate and very disadvantaged…who finds herself in a terrible situation as a single mother which she never planned to be, her marriage having never been registered.

It’s about her fight through the courts in Morocco to try and legitimise her child.

How did you find out about the charity representing these women? (L’Association Solidarité Feminine)

To be honest it wasn’t too difficult once I started looking around and researching women’s rights in Morocco. The woman who founded that charity – Aicha Chenna – is a household name and when she set up her charity to defend single mothers and try and….it was really about looking after the children.

When she started that back in 1985 she suffered death threats…she’s received a medal from the King now.

The film transmitted in Morocco in early May and [reached] extraordinary success in that 1 in 3 watching TV that night watched my film! The TV station were absolutely amazed as well.

If that started the conversation, what would you like to see happen next?

Well Aicha Chenna would argue that they should decouple the family law from religion. She would like to see a proper secular law code which treated men and women as equal.

6,500 babies are abandoned every year on doorsteps and in dust bins and I think it’s a bit like Victorian Britain with this horrific level of abuse and disregard for human life.

You have gained unprecedented access into the lives of these women and the Moroccan legal system. What persuaded them to participate to this level?

Well the strange thing was I really did think that very few would want to talk to me, but it was the opposite. Only about 1 in 10 didn’t want to talk to me.

They desperately wanted to tell their stories and they were so angry, they felt such a grave injustice and I think…my Assistant Producer had a microphone and I had a camera and we were just a very non-threatening team of two women.

You spent four years’ researching this film including months living amongst your subjects in a Casablanca slum. What was that experience like?

We rented a room in a house which was full of single mothers in the area close to the charity and a lot of people were living in the margins. It was a very rough area but very friendly and jolly, we were greatly accepted.

Nora (Assistant Producer) and I shared a room, we had a mattress each on the floor and there was no bathroom so we used to go round to our neighbours and you quickly get to know people. In the corridor in the communal space, there was no kitchen just those low to the floor gas cookers.

We would share food and I would talk about my kids back home and the difficulties I was having [being away from them] or we’d talk about men in general or whatever.

I think the word went out that we were OK, we weren’t pampered media types!

Your film really highlights the exploitation of those on the fringes of society. There is a scene where the receptionist at the hospital wouldn’t give an appointment to allow the mother to immunise the baby, then the nurse at the hospital charged the mother for immunisations even though the government provides them for free. Is that something you saw frequently whilst you were filming there?

I heard legions of stories, exactly the same, that women and men without any power can be so easily exploited….if people think they can get away with it they will.

I think Rabha has just been a really extraordinary person in that she’s so determined to do right by her daughter.

I’m sure you noticed that by the end she’s not wearing a headscarf. I asked her about it – it isn’t in the film and she said ‘well, the women in the charity don’t wear headscarves’, and Nora and I don’t wear headscarves and she thought it was the sign of an educated woman, and she wanted to be an educated woman. It was her right and her choice, she didn’t want to make a big deal about it and good for her.

Had she have been born into a big city with parents who provided her with a decent education, who knows she might have been a lawyer herself.

Have you heard back from the women since the film aired?

They were all delighted…they were a bit shocked at the title which is even more shocking and offensive than it is here, but I persuaded them that this is just a way to cut through. It is quite a provocative title, but apart from that they were cheering and whooping – I had a joint showing and invited all the women from the charity along to see it.

You worked at the BBC previously, were you involved with documentaries there?

Yes I started off in London as a graduate trainee many years ago and worked my way up.

I’ve had a lifetime of making documentaries and I guess over time the TV industry and the landscape is very different from when I started in the eighties.

Although there are still magnificent documentaries on TV – absolutely – there are fewer of them and then that makes the opportunity to get a film made about another country, with subtitles, with no British connection, that’s pretty much impossible now and I think that’s very, very sad.

I think there is an interest and an appetite for film a bit outside of the mainstream fodder that’s on offer, but it’s desperately sad that the more channels you have the less choice you have.

Are you working on any other projects currently?

I’m always interested in women’s lives…I’m always interested in positive things. I don’t mind shining a light on villainy and corruption but it’s also great when you can find something [positive] that’s being done like this film.

Bastards is written, directed and filmed by Deborah Perkin and you can find out about cinema screenings here or rent/buy the film online here.

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