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Holy Fatma

By Emmanuelle Ben Hadj

Image courtesy of Holy Fatma, https://www.holyfatma.com/

Image courtesy of Holy Fatma, https://www.holyfatma.com/

Holy Fatma defines herself as a « réalisatrice fantastique » (working in the genre of the fantastic). The genre is now part of the French director’s identity, after a “gestation period” as she calls it, during which she studied film and gained experience working in California as a production assistant and a set designer while making her own short films. Back in France, after directing Règlement de conte (2014) with the association “1000 Visages” (funded by Houda Benyamina, the director of Divines [2016]), Holy Fatma received recognition for her short film Please Love Me Forever (2016).

Please Love Me Forever tells the story of Lili, a young albino girl whose protective and obsessive mother keeps her from social interaction. Lili is in love with her neighbor Lyesse, but when she invites him over, not everything goes as planned: [spoiler warning] Lyesse accidentally falls down the stairs to his death. Following her mother’s advice who is herself an adept of replacing her own body parts to stay young forever, Lili fetches a new heart to revive the boy, à la Frankenstein.

Lili's mother, Claudie. Image courtesy of Holy Fatma.

Lili's mother, Claudie. Image courtesy of Holy Fatma.

Although she lists Tim Burton, Guillermo Del Toro and Tod Browning as her biggest influences, Holy Fatma’s tends to stay away from fantasy monsters and creatures: she would rather create organic beings, turning misfits and outcasts into strong characters, as she does with Lili in Please Love Me Forever, whose albinism is not synonymous with monstrosity. Holy Fatma succeeded in blending all her influences to come up with her own universe. Not only was the short film nominated in multiple festivals, but also it received the best short award at Screamfest in Hollywood, and was played on French television (Libre Court on France 3), something far from insignificant in light of the strict censorship rules on French public channels.

For her next short film titled Fatale Orientale to be released in 2019, Holy Fatma had to face the difficulty of writing the screenplay on her own (she had previously collaborated with Romain Compingt on Please Love Me Forever), and she even decided to travel to Algeria to explore her identity as a young woman of Arab origin, like her main character in the short: after participating in a reality television show, protagonist Dalia’s mom calls her a disgrace and rejects her, which forces the young woman to face the demons of her origin but also of her physical appearance.

Holy Fatma is also working on her first feature film called Zahra et les morts (Zahra and the Dead), under development at the writing residency of Le Groupe Ouest, who selected her project among many. A young girl named Zahra goes on a quest to find her recently deceased dad in the world of the dead—and no, do not expect a French version of Disney’s Coco! One of Holy Fatma’s goals is to create marked characters who can be turned into Halloween costumes, as she says so herself. And Zahra, just like Lili, will be one of them. In a country such as France where horror/fantastique cinema is not always welcomed with open arms, Holy Fatma has an infallible marketing strategy to shake things up: accentuate her films’ visibility by creating a universe filled with long-lasting figures, the way Burton and Del Toro did, and prolonging the experience beyond the film itself (she has every intention of bringing her characters to the red carpet with her one day!)

However, Holy Fatma is realistic regarding the conditions of selling genre on the French market. She explains that being rejected by commissions whose members simply did not like horror/fantastique motivated her to become a project reader for the CNC (National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image) to open the door to neglected genres. To stack all the odds in her favor, in her own films, the director counts on character development and a solid screenplay more than shock and gore, in addition to shooting in French language to facilitate financing by French institutions. Even though she plans on international distribution for her next feature and does not dismiss the idea of working in the United States again, possibly on an American coproduction, Holy Fatma is determined to focus on her own projects as an author-director.

Lili and Lyesse's heart. Image courtesy of Holy Fatma.

Lili and Lyesse's heart. Image courtesy of Holy Fatma.

When asked about her vision and visibility as a female director, Holy Fatma finds it important to put forward what makes women special and is not always shown creatively on screen, such as giving birth, breastfeeding and menstruating, which she hopes to include in her work eventually. To her, there is a need to stop equating female sensitivity with weakness, which is why she insists on spending time developing strong but perceptive female characters in each of her films. As a young woman of Arab origin working in genre films, Holy Fatma is fully aware that mediocrity is not an option. With Please Love Me Forever and her future projects, she aims at promoting diversity while avoiding the pitfall of social realism.

The promising director is also currently on board for a mini-series for Arte (Franco German television channel) called Le Vero Show on a man working as a chemist by day and performing as a drag queen by night.

Emmanuelle Ben Hadj is a third-year PhD student in Film and Media Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research focuses on the industry of horror cinema in France from financing and production to exhibition and audience reception.

Additional Resources on Holy Fatma

Bibliography of Further Reading

Gimello-Mesplomb, Frédéric. Les cinéastes français à l'épreuve du genre fantastique. L’Harmattan: Paris, 2012.

Ludwig, Nathan. "Artist Spotlight - Women In Horror: Holy Fatma.GenreBlast Film Festival.

Toffolo, Matthew. "Interview with Director Holy Fatma: Please Love Me Forever.Wild Sound Festival Review, 4 August 2017.

You can see the making of Please Love Me Forever here.


Zahra et les morts, 2020, director, writer

Fatale Orientale (short), 2019, director, writer

Please Love Me Forever (short), 2016, director, co-writer

Règlement de conte (short), 2014, director, writer

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