Women in Sink tells the story of a little hair salon in the heart of the Christian Arab community in Haifa, where
director Iris Zaki goes to work as a shampoo girl. Placing her camera above the washing-basin, where the clients
enjoy a head massage, Iris converses with Arab and Jewish women from different generations and
backgrounds on varied topics; from politics and war to love. Through this unique interaction, the women’s stories
portray life in Israel from a personal and often-unexpected point of view.
Although born and raised in Haifa (Israel), as a Jew, I don’t remember ever communicating with its Arab citizens – fulfilling the coexistence that this city is so very proud of.
I had a similar situation in London (UK); as part of my student job as the receptionist of a Jewish hotel in North London, I spoke for the first time in my life with ultra-Orthodox Jews. This interaction has taught me that my perception of this community had been based mostly on stereotypes. From that, a short documentary was born: MY KOSHER SHIFTS (2010) – which I shot, edited and produced all by myself, working as a one-woman-band. Once I knew I was going to make another film, it was clear to me that it was going to be about the Arab community in Haifa, which has attracted me for years. Many films are made about the Israeli conflict and the occupation. I felt I wanted to scrutinise a quiet front, one which symbolises coexistence, and to explore, right there, a community of minorities.
Haifa was also a natural choice for me, since it’s my hometown – where my identity begins, with a father who came from Egypt and is half Muslim (my grandfather, Muhamad El’Aqad) and a mother whose parents, holocaust survivors, were amongst the people that invaded abandoned houses that were left behind by their scared Arab owners. I moved between the desire to get to know Arab citizens in person and a passion to explore my own complex identity through these encounters; and between my instinctive fear when I hear Arabic, which is the result of growing up in Israel, and the guilt I carry towards a community which I believe was, and still is, treated unequally.
I sought a place where I would be able to build an intimacy with the subjects, and the decision to work for a hairdresser seemed perfect because of the physical connection with the women and the traffic of clientele that such a place offers. I wished not to show up in a location and shoot, but rather to become a temporary resident, and through my interaction with random subjects, to get to know the community. This is one of the cornerstones of my filmmaking method, which I have named ‘The Abandoned Camera’: one which embraces the ethnographic value of a researcher that lives the topic, not studying from a distance.
I went to Haifa to make a film about Arab women. I wanted to learn from them about the difficulties of living as a minority in Israel.. Within a complex reality, I’ve found a friendship of acceptance and respect between women, and I left not only with a film, but also, with hope.