Italian born, Egyptian-French model/actress/director Elisa Sednaoui is known for her cheekbones, her smile and her many campaigns.
She's appeared on runways and in magazines modeling and representing Harper's Bazaar, Chanel, Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli, Vogue, Numero, Elle and was Karl Lagerfeld's muse.
In addition to her print and acting work, Elisa is now being recognized for her work behind the lens. Chaim's "Robots on Meth," whose video Elisa co-directed with Martina Gili, her BFF, is a visual melange and her forthcoming documentary on a community in Egypt, where her father is from, will add another notch to her to directorial belt.
Later this year, she will release The Legend of Kasper Hauser, a film co-starring Vincent Gallo.
GlobalGrind spoke to the 20-something Renaissance woman by email earlier this week about her projects and about Egypt. Here's some of what we talked about.
GlobalGrind: Describe how you became involved with "Robots On Meth."
Elisa Sednaoui: I am a big fan of Chaim's music. I collaborated with him on his first album, ALIVE, that was released last year, on a track called "Who said What" of which I have written the lyrics and you can hear my voice in English and Italian. We've been thinking of doing a music video together and when the release of "Robots on Meth" (which features the singer JAW from doP) came up, it just felt like the perfect timing. Also, my best friend Martina (who is my collaborator - we have directed also the documentary together) and I, have been inspired by what we felt was the message coming across.
The song goes "Again and again, we keep on doing the same, like robots on meth"... The repetition is a leitmotif that points at the incapability of breaking mental loops that isolate us, alienating city life. We decided to portray the stream of consciousness of a young, beautiful woman - who happens to be one of our best friends. The video wishes to depict the ongoing quest of two girlfriends who keep on dancing in the darkness, in the daylight, striving to feel alive. We've tried to mix reality, dream and surreal images (memories stay in our soul as impressions), that for us evoke the existential dissonance addressed by the song.
What were some of the challenges making the video?
The main goal was for it to feel honest. I guess the real challenge was that this was our first music video ever. So we started learning in the process, Martina and I are holding the camera in our hands. We had a lot of fun shooting it and just letting the creativity flow. We are very lucky, because the subjects, who are two of our closest girlfriends, allowed us to simply film them without changing their attitude in front of a camera. It is an experiment involving real-life improvisation.
Was it difficult making the transition from being in front of the lens to being behind it?
It actually feels like a totally harmonic progression. To me, one thing doesn't exclude the other. I love acting, and will continue to play, but I've also always been attracted by the whole process of directing, the photography, the angles, colors, lights. I like expressing things I have in me in as many different ways as possible. I've realized I truly love filming people.
Aside from being partly Egyptian, what attracted you to the documentary you made about Cairo?
The documentary is not about Cairo, but about a small 200 inhabitants village in southern Egypt. We wanted to show Egypt under a different perspective, and research the level of self-awareness and awareness of what surrounds them in a more rural area.
What I'm interesting in are human beings. I love to observe them. Egyptians and their way of looking at life has touched my heart and deeply influenced me, so there was a desire of sharing that. It just felt right to start directing on a subject I know.
Speaking of Cairo and Egypt, any thoughts on what’s happening with Mubarak’s trial and the push for democracy in Egypt?
I am so proud of the Egyptians and of the strength and determination they've shown. There are times that I still can't believe that a year has passed from the beginning of the revolution, that they really did it. Now the situation is very difficult, because democracy without corruption is something they have to build from scratch. Everybody is thirsty for power. And also media is exploiting fear, and the information we get of the various intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists or the Army, isn't precise. What we tend to forget is also the interest that foreign countries have in Egypt because of its strategic position. I guess only time will tell. Who will be elected will enter in power and show what they can do. I think the good thing about people still manifesting in the streets is that they're basically saying, "We're not letting go until we get what we want. We're not lowering our guard." There have been some accomplishments. For example, the abolition of the use of "virginity tests" on female detainees that the military rulers used to practice.
Where were you when the riots were occurring last year?
I had left Egypt 15 days before, I always spend my Christmas vacations there, and was traveling.
Your Uncle Stephane is a legendary video director. Is your interest in music, video and art inspired by his success?
Stephane is a huge inspiration for me, not only as a director and artist but as a man. I admire that he stays true to himself and he is passionate about life. I love that he is not afraid to speak his mind. He's honest. His creativeness is limitless, and he has fun doing what he does, which I think is key.
Favorite designer and why?
Haider Ackermann, because he is a true artist. There is an extreme, and at the same time, subtle and fragile sensuality in his creations, with always the edge of a strong, powerful woman. A woman who truly is herself. He is the master of drapes and insanely beautiful shades of color.
Favorite director and why?
This is a difficult one because I love many for different reasons. I love John Cassavetes, especially his first two movies Faces and Shadows. I like them for the simplicity and strength of the images. I find that they give freedom to whomever watches it, you really get lost in the emotions and almost make your own story. I love the way he directed actors. I must say that Buffalo 66 is one of my favorite movies as well. I think it's flawless. The images and the way Christina Ricci, Angelica Huston, Ben Gazzara and Vincent Gallo act is spectacular.
I'm also a big fan of the '50s-'60s era. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart (To Have or Have Not, Casablanca, The Barefoot Contessa), the humor and class of these scripts. And also slightly later, Monica Vitti and Antonioni. Well, Antonioni is probably my favorite director.
Favorite photographer and why?
Probably Lee Friedlander. I just love the books on his wife Maria and following him on his adventures through the world. Black and White. Film.
What music are you listening to?
I go through some serious obsessive moments with particular songs. Right now it's for "Around" by Noir & Haze and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" by Marvin Gaye. I would say certain types of Electronic music and the '60s-'70s Soul are my favorite. For Curtis Mayfield I'm unconditional. Obviously classics like Biggie never tire me.