Close Up Culture talks to Rami Kodeih, director of short film Alina, which focuses on the heroic women who fought and risked their lives to save children during the Holocaust.
Alina is a wonderful film of hope and defiance set in a dark place. Written by Nora Mariana, when did you become part of the film and why?
Thank you! My wife Nora had the idea, and her passion for the story was infectious. I was very happy to come on board to collaborate. What resonated with us both is how, in the darkest moment in history, these women used acts of love to counter the most unimaginable hate and horror. It feels very timely and relevant to remember both the very real dangers of fascism, hate, and anti-Semitism — and to also remember the heroic women who fought against it, even with very little means at their disposal.
When we learn about the holocaust in history classes, we are taught about the awfulness and how it tainted a moment in time. How important is it to you that we also learn about the true heroes of it?
There is something deeply inspiring about the way in which — even in history’s darkest moments — there were people who truly exhibited the very best of human nature, the ability to love and stand up for the right thing. We wanted to show how powerful those acts of love were against hate. It’s something very important to remember and honour in times like these. The heroes of our story did not have a lot of means at their disposal, but they had their inner strength and incredible resourcefulness and were able to save thousands of children this way.
Alia Shawkat stars in your short, playing someone brave and willing to risk her life. How did you work with her, as well as the other actors, to create these in-depth characters so believable?
Some of this was in the casting itself—many of our cast members had a personal understanding of the historical events in the short and the way they connect to our current climate. We spent time talking with our actors about the characters and about the greater intention of the short. Some of our actors were also able to meet with a Holocaust survivor who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto and survived several concentration camps. That was impactful for many of us working on the film: connecting a historical event to a human being who lived it in person and could sit across from us and share their incredible story.
Working with cinematographer Matthew Plaxco, we become part of the terror and excitement of the chase. What is something that you’d hope the audience would take away from watching Alina?
We hoped to make the film as immersive and visceral as possible, so that the audience felt they were truly with these women moment to moment.
With smoke and darkness, the film appears to be set in a dystopian land far from the truth of our world’s history. What do you think of all the films that have been made looking at this time period, in both good and bad ways? Is your film, using truth, a standout compared to those who use fiction?
War to me in general is real-life dystopia, and that is certainly true of WW2. The darkness of the film was taken from what I know first-hand about war—electricity is so often cut off, and you’re left with the darkness of scarce candlelight. There have been many amazing films made about this period in history, and the ones I remember most are very raw and grounded in the reality of what happened, whether the main character is a well-known historical figure (Schindler’s List) or whether the character is perhaps a composite figure positioned in a very real historical setting (Son Of Saul).
You have directed a lot over your career, how do you make your films stand out to win awards and really get people talking?
We simply try to tell stories that are personal to us and the rest is really up to the audience. In the case of Alina, it’s been very moving and humbling to just connect with festival goers and other filmmakers (virtually) during COVID.
I hear that you’re working with Nora Mariana on her next film which is very exciting. Do you plan on keeping this subject alive in your next projects or is there anything else you’d like to look into?
We do! We’re very interested in further exploring the characters of Alina and are also working on a project with a completely different tone/setting — a contemporary crime drama.