Farida Khelfa Wants to Challenge the Image of Middle Eastern Women

It got here as no shock to see Farida Khelfa sitting in the entrance row eventually week’s trend exhibits in Paris, along with her signature chopped haircut and vast smile. Two of the largest exhibits had been basically tributes to Azzedine Alaïa and Jean Paul Gaultier, designers who took inspiration from and helped elevate Ms. Khelfa to supermodel standing in the 1980s.

As a young person, Ms. Khelfa ran away from her strict Algerian household in Lyon, France, and was found whereas working at a Parisian nightclub.

She nonetheless sometimes fashions, most not too long ago for Fendi’s spring couture assortment, however right this moment Ms. Khelfa, 61, is extra targeted on filmmaking. In 2012, she launched a documentary about the Arab Spring, filmed in Tunisia shortly after the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. She has additionally made movies about her pals Christian Louboutin and Mr. Gaultier.

Earlier this month, she launched “De L’autre Côté du Voile” (“On the Other Side of the Veil”) on her YouTube channel. Through a sequence of interviews — beginning with designers, then increasing to artists, a chef, a nonprofit employee and extra — Ms. Khelfa mentioned she wished to supply a brand new perspective on girls residing and dealing in the Middle East.

In an interview with The Times, she spoke about the movie and extra.

Q. Did any of the girls you interviewed shock you or problem your personal notions of Muslim girls?

A. The one who stunned me is the lady who was completely veiled, Ghadah Al Rabee. She’s an artist, and her husband is working along with her — for her. She’s the lead in the couple, you’ll be able to inform, and she or he’s completely lined. Her work is so alive, and she or he’s very humorous.

For me it was like: How are you able to be an artist and be completely lined? But then I understood it was an announcement. I keep in mind after I was in New York, throughout the ’80s, there have been some artists who arrived completely bare at their opening. In a approach, that was an announcement.

Ghadah Al Rabee in a nonetheless from the documentary.

Another artist, Manal Al Dowayan, says that Saudi girls are typically depicted in a single of two methods: the activist who results in jail or the veiled and oppressed sufferer. She says girls in the center, working towards change inside the system, are ignored. Do you agree with that?

I believe so. The oppressed girls, we have now to take into consideration them. But I believe it’s extra constructive and extra attention-grabbing to discuss the girls who appear like us. We can refer to them. They need to work, they need to have cash, they need to have a household or not have a household. We have the identical desires. We’re the identical.

Manal Al Dowayan.

When you began modeling, did you discover that folks had a stereotypical picture of you as a Muslim lady?

No, as a result of society wasn’t that obsessive about the stereotype. I didn’t have any issues.

Fashion is just not racist. Fashion is open. If you convey one thing to trend, the designer likes you, the photographer likes you, and you’re employed.

But as a result of I used to be raised in the Muslim world, it was very troublesome for me to be doing issues like lingerie. I can’t do lingerie. Even being photographed was sophisticated for me.

Did your mother and father help your profession?

No, my mother and father by no means supported it. But I by no means requested for that.

What’s the largest distinction you see in modeling right this moment, in contrast to your early years?

First of all, there are such a lot of fashions — so, so, so many. The trade has modified utterly. It’s far more business-minded. When I did the exhibits, once we had been strolling, individuals had been screaming your identify such as you had been in a live performance. It was completely loopy.

Now you’ll be able to inform they need to promote luggage. It’s a special world. It doesn’t create the identical sort of vitality, once you see fashions stroll straight and have a look at the digital camera to have the greatest profile. We actually didn’t have a look at the digital camera. We had been smoking once we walked! You can’t try this anymore.

Is it tougher for fashions to change careers?

So many fashions really feel actually unhealthy towards the finish of their careers — of their 30s. When the telephone doesn’t ring anymore, abruptly you perceive that you just’re out of the recreation.

You have to suppose upfront. You have to be ready. But we’re by no means ready for failure. And failure is essential. Success could be very uncommon, and it doesn’t final. Most of the time you fail.

You’ve mentioned that your subsequent movie shall be about your personal life.

It’s not a documentary. It’s going to be fiction and nonfiction, blended.

It’s not straightforward to share your story. That’s why it’s a combination of fiction and nonfiction — as a result of I can’t write a guide. I can’t, as a result of for those who write a guide, you’ve gotten to say every thing, and I can’t.

But in a movie, and simply with a picture, you’ll be able to say so many issues. You don’t want phrases, simply a picture. That’s why I like cinema.

This dialog was condensed and edited for readability.