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Innovation Award Winner: The Shampoo Summit

Filmmaker and creator of The Shampoo Summit Iris Zaki

The Shampoo Summit shows how one of the most seemingly intractable conflicts of modern times can, for a moment at least, dissolve in the suds of a simple hair wash. It's a film that proves how in one hair salon, two different communities can co-exist without tension or unease.

Filmed by a fixed, unmanned camera, this uplifting Research in Film Awards 2017-winning documentary invites viewers to eavesdrop on intimate conversations that reveal another side of contemporary Israel that quietly co exists with the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.

The filmmaker, Iris Zaki, first developed her distinctive style while studying for a master’s degree and working as a receptionist at an ultraorthodox Jewish hotel in north London.

“I had to make a film for my course and it occurred to me that the hotel would be a perfect place,” she says. “I decided to have an unmanned camera filming while I did my job and use it to capture the conversations that took place.

“I put the camera on a tripod and got back to work. This meant that the conversations I recorded were very organic. I don’t do interviews. I do conversations. This is very important to me. Yes, I have the control. But with my films I want to break the traditional power relationship between filmmaker and subject.”

"The conversations I recorded were very organic. I don’t do interviews. I do conversations."

Iris called the technique ‘the abandoned camera’ and made two further films as part of a practice-based PhD, before beginning the work that would ultimately lead to Shampoo Summit.

“I knew I had to go to Haifa, my home town, and make a film there,” she says. “Haifa is proud of the peaceful relations between Jews and Arabs in the city. But the two communities still don’t mix. I was looking for some sort of customer service role that would give me a chance to explore that situation.”

Zaki found that the hair salon was the ideal location for filming

It was then that Iris stumbled across Fifi’s hair salon, which was owned by two Christians and used by both Jews and Arabs.

“That was it,” she says. “I didn’t look back. They were so welcoming. It was perfect.”

“At first I felt like I was invading their space. But I worked hard. I did everything. I cleaned toilets. I wanted to show them I was serious. After about three days I started to feel more at home.

“It was an amazing place. There’s always food, coffee, conversation. People just open up and discuss things there. People in the salon are ready to talk very quickly.

“Sometimes when I film people elsewhere, we will talk for two hours because they take so long to warm up. At the hair salon they were ready to go in ten minutes!

“There was a special feminine bond at Fifi’s that I hope comes across in the film. People would tell me that they forgot they were being filmed and I was very pleased to hear that.”

There was a special feminine bond at Fifi’s that I hope comes across in the film. People would tell me that they forgot they were being filmed..."

With the resulting footage Iris created a documentary called Women in Sink, which went on to be shown at 120 international film festivals and received numerous awards. On the strength of this, the New York Times asked Iris to produce a shorter version – The Shampoo Summit.

“It has changed everything for me,” she says. “The film begins with the audience, I think. And it has created some really strong reactions. For me, everything in Israel is always black and white, while Shampoo Summit is all about ‘grey voices’.

“People aren’t used to that. They are not used to hearing from people who aren’t that extreme. But I think that it’s important that they do.

Zaki worked at Fifi's Hair Salon throughout the filming

“It’s interesting, because those on the left were saying to me: ‘How can you make this film, you should be making a film about the occupation. Those on the right were saying the opposite.

“To me, it was good to get these reactions; it shows that I am doing something right. We need to shake things up. That is what documentary filmmakers need to be doing.

“People are too sure of their views and used to being divided and in opposition to one another. Whereas in reality, right or wrong, we are stuck together; we are one.

“The hair salon shows in a small way that we don’t have to be cynical.

“It says: 'Perhaps we can change things?'”

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