Writer/Director Zeina Durra Discusses Digging Into the Past in LUXOR

Andrea Riseborough as Hana in the drama/romance film LUXOR, a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Luxor tells the story of a British aid worker taking a hiatus in the ancient Egyptian city, where she bumps into a former lover, Sultan, an archeologist. As she visits the archeological digs he is working on, she unearths the layers of her own past and considers the opportunities before her with him. 

LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher talked to the project’s writer/director Zeina Durra about the film’s metaphors and her personal connection to the material.

John Bucher: My background is in mythology and depth psychology. So, I found a treasure trove of wonderful material in your film. I wonder if you could talk about what your protagonist, Hana, is experiencing in this world she enters, of archaeology – where one unearths the past to discover things of value.

Zeina Durra: Oh, I’m so glad you picked up on that. Basically, I’m very interested in how things become difficult for someone, and who they become as a result. They become more aware of the supernatural, the deeper they dig in themselves. I spoke to some archeologists about supernatural experiences that happen when you’re doing an actual dig. They told me that any archaeologist who tells you they haven’t had one would be lying. I feel like this film tapped into something and sometimes was being guided by other powers. It just feels so relevant to this moment we are in right now, taking a deeper look at ourselves.

John Bucher: There’s this beautiful quote in the film where Hana says that the old world is dying, and the new world is struggling to be born but that now is the time of monsters. Talk to me about that. That line felt like you were speaking exactly to this moment in history. Talk to me about where you heard that quote and how that came to be in the script.

Zeina Durra: Yes, I went to see the most amazing film about the civil war in Algeria. Before the screening, the director mentioned this quote, from Antonio Gramsci. I was like, “God, that just sums up everything. This is where we are right now.” It was one of these films — so brutal that you almost wish you’d never seen it, but clearly it stayed with me. The quote was so strong and beautiful and there was something in this film.

(L-R) Andrea Riseborough as Hana and Karim Saleh as Sultan in the drama/romance film LUXOR, a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

John Bucher: I wonder if I could ask you about the story itself – the journey of this woman who’s, in a sense, doing an archaeological dig on her own past. Then also, in this moment, looking to the possibility of the future. Is there something still to be to be had with this man she has encountered again? Can you talk about the experience of women in these situations?

Zeina Durra: I was looking back at my own life and thinking I had the opposite experience of this woman’s life.  I left New York, which I didn’t want to do, to marry my husband. My husband was in Europe and I had to move to Europe, back home, which I had escaped from once.

I moved. I left my network. I had to start again. It was really difficult. But if I had stayed perhaps this would have been my world. I really wanted to grapple with those emotions.

LUXOR is available on Digital and On Demand December 4th.

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John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.

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