On Location: Behind “Three Veils”

As the writer and director of Three Veils, a few common questions I get about the film are “Is this movie based on a true story?” or “How was it working with the lovely and (insert your favorite saucy term) Sheetal Sheth?” However, the first question I inevitably get is “Excuse me, are you crazy?”

I suppose one must be crazy to attempt to make a film in this day and age about young Arab women — who are Muslim — who go through controversial subject matters such as arranged marriage, forbidden love. And for creating one of the first narrative films to ever feature the struggles of an Arab, Muslim Lesbian.

When I first started writing the script, I admit I was anxious. I didn’t want to offend any particular group, or make unwelcome enemies, especially of the threatening kind. Of course, that goal proved to be mostly hopeless as you’ll find out later on. But I’m still here, writing all you magnificent AfterEllen.com-ers, and am ready to tell the tale of how this little-film-that-could made it to the big screen. Sheetal will be along for the ride. I’ll be having a Q&A with her and ask questions I’ve never actually asked her before, even though we spent a lot of time together on-set, so I’ll be excited to see her responses (as are you, I’m sure). OK, lez do this!

Why this film?
Growing up in the Middle East with a Muslim family and social structure, I found it extremely difficult to voice the injustices I felt towards women in the region. Back then there were no women’s rights discussions, and even the mention of the word “lesbian” would be enough to get you suspended or even expelled from school.

This was my answer to that question. In the end, this is a film I made for that “me,” for the me who needed help figuring it all out. I always make films I would want to watch, and hope there are others like me who feel the same.

Writing in German bars
As the title suggests, I did most of my writing in German bars. It took me a year to complete the script in its entirety. It was 2006; I was living in Nuremberg at the time on a work assignment. I was alone, and was quickly becoming stir-crazy writing in my one-bedroom apartment. So every night I would walk a mile to the German bar down the street in the alt Stadt, order a tea (much to the bartenders’ horror), and write my heart out. Of course they got used to me patronizing their establishment night after night, writing furiously and ordering enough black tea to give an elephant the jitters.

After a year, I wrote the sweetest and most pleasurable two words a screenwriter could possibly write: “FADE OUT,” indicating the end of the script. I cried. I cried for three days. First in front of the good people at the bar, then the next two days in my bed. This was the beginning of something big. How big was yet to be determined.

Raising the roof, or not
In 2007, I returned home to the U.S. with my script in-hand, and started knocking on the doors and pockets of anyone who would listen. This wasn’t a project for the faint of heart. It was mired by the controversy that surrounded the topics of the film, and in the end, I was not able to raise any funds. The economy was at a standstill, and my friends and family were struggling. Investors looked the other way as soon as they heard the film was about three brown, Muslim women and their stories, one of which was a lesbian struggling with her deep repressions. I was left with 125-pages, each becoming heavier the more I carried the script from door to door.

One thing I have learned over the years is to never, ever give up. In fact, a quick side-note, the first short film I ever made when I was 12 years old was called Never Give Up. Sounds childish, but I tell ya, it matters. Always be the last one standing, even if you are being pushed and shoved, even if you are being booed and bullied, even if everyone has long gone and left the room.