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October 9, 2016 7:50 am

Director of Israel’s First All-Arabic-Language Oscar Entry Says Film’s Multicultural Crew Worked Together as ‘One Family’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A screenshot from the trailer of "Sand Storm." Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Lamas Ammar in “Sand Storm.” Photo: YouTube/Screenshot.

The writer-director of Israel’s first entirely Arabic-language entry for the Oscars said that although members of the film’s cast and crew came from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, they all worked together harmoniously towards “the same goal.”

“Nobody cared about religious, political or ethnic differences,” Elite Zexer told regarding the team behind “Sand Storm.” She added, “Our entire crew worked together…while taking pleasure and pride in being part of one family.”

The film is a family drama that focuses on a young woman rebelling against the traditional polygamist marital values of her Bedouin father. Tensions between them arise when the daughter gets involved in a forbidden romantic relationship with a fellow university student from a different Bedouin tribe.

Zexer — who spent four years perfecting her script in an effort to show respect for the Bedouin women she had met — said that, on the set of the movie, shot on location in four Bedouin villages in southern Israel, most of the Bedouins (who made up the cast) spoke Hebrew, with the younger ones being the most fluent.

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The 35-year-old filmmaker and Tel Aviv resident said the film’s basic plot — showcasing inter-generational cultural challenges — is very relatable. Zexer, a graduate of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, said, “Wherever we have screened the film, from Sundance [Film Festival] to Korea, women have come to me afterwards to tell me, ‘That’s me. That’s the way it was between my mother and me.’”

“Sand Storm” won six prizes last month at the Ophir Awards — Israel’s version of the Oscars — including best picture, best director and best supporting actress. noted that “Sand Storm” also took home a $65,000 first-prize win at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, won the 2016 World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, as well as various awards at film competitions in Jerusalem, Taiwan, Seattle and South Korea.

Zexer said the success of her first feature film has blown her away. “My hope was just to make an honest picture about a little-known segment of Israeli society. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so well received and move so many people,” she said.

“Sand Storm” opens this week in New York and Los Angeles.

Watch the film’s trailer below:

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