#14: Meet Erika Cohn

21 10 2009

ERIKA COHN, writer/director

Film: WHEN THE VOICES FADE

Screening: Saturday Oct. 24th, 3:30pm – Peace in the Middle East program

When the Voices Fade is a portrait of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict seen through the eyes of a Lebanese-American dance instructor, Nadia, and an Israeli Defense Forces pilot, Amir.

When the 2006 war breaks out, Amir is called back to duty, forcing him to evaluate his moral objections to serving again. After Nadia and Amir coincidently meet at a coffee shop, Amir’s decision to return to Israel becomes more complicated. Despite the powerful voices who are in opposition to Nadia’s and Amir’s respective sides, they are both able to reconcile their differences, until Beirut is bombed.

When Voices Fade

1. Tell us a little about yourself and where you have lived, highlighting any major cultural identities that define, influence or challenge you in your life.

I was born and raised in an interfaith family in Salt Lake City, Utah – a city where faith defines who a person is.  Growing up in this kind of environment gave me an appreciation for all different faiths and cultures while cultivating my drive to help reconcile differences between various groups in conflict.  Art was my way of doing so.  I had started acting, singing and dancing at an early age and loved expressing myself creatively.

2. How did you come to be a filmmaker, and where/how did you learn the “craft” of filmmaking?

In addition to Utah being a place of faith, it also hosts the Sundance Film Festival.  I grew up with the film festival practically in my backyard and became fascinated with the art of filmmaking.  I made my first film, Searching Faith, when I was 16, which was sponsored by the Sundance Institute and Spy Hop Productions.  The film explores interfaith relationships and marriages in predominantly Mormon, Salt Lake City.  Making this film helped me to better understand my family’s dynamics in addition to being a universal topic that many individuals struggle with. After that experience, I was hooked.  I continued my filmmaking education at Chapman University in Orange, California where I obtained a BFA in Film Production a BA in Middle Eastern Studies and a minor in theatre.

3. What prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?

My co-writer, Natasha Atalla, and I began writing the script during the 2006 war and poured ourselves into the story.  Over the 2 years of script development, ideas changed corresponding with what was happening in our lives.  From conversations that we had about the conflict to my experiences through being a bellydance instructor,When the Voices Fade is very much based on our own personal lives.  Therefore this has always been a film that is close to my heart.

Why the 2006 war?  It was a war that greatly affected Natasha and I.  Whether we liked it or not, we were immediately emotionally involved in a conflict that was thousands of miles away from our Southern California comfort, because of our ethnic backgrounds. Natasha and I both had family and friends who were in the region during that summer and were keeping up with their travel logs.  I read about the kidnappings in the news, but for those in the Middle East, it wasn’t an event worth noting in our correspondence. I never would have predicted a war, and reading the headlines, “Warfare In The Middle East,” was shocking.  I listened to the stories of my family and friends who were immediately trying to catch flights from Beirut and Tel Aviv, some who were unable to leave after the Beirut airport was bombed.  In the United States, many people who I spoke with were ill informed of a “new war.”  They thought the Middle East was always at war.  I wanted to make a film that challenged this idea and humanized the conflict.

4. What is your single favorite line from your film?

During Nadia and Amir’s dance exchange, they have several witty comments back and forth which are just wonderful.  I won’t be specific in order to save the surprise.

5. What movies would you say have transformed or changed the way you see the world?

I’ve been inspired by so many filmmakers in both the documentary and narrative worlds- it is difficult to name just a few.  My favorite films keep changing depending on the project I’m working on or the mood I’m in.  I would have to say that Born into Brothels definitely inspired me to continue my work in the documentary field, and to not solely focus on narrative filmmaking.

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