Sand Storm (Sufat chol), a first feature by Israeli director Elite Zexer, won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, over the weekend. Beta Cinema acquired the film –about Bedouin  traditions in the face of modernity– and will distribute it.

The film opens at wedding festivities in a Bedouin  village in the Negev Desert. But unlike most weddings where the celebration is a happy one, the problem here is that the woman holding the event is angry that it’s even taking place: her husband is marrying a second woman, much younger than herself.

During the celebration, the woman finds out that her daughter is having a forbidden relationship with a young man from her university – a liaison that would shame the family.

“This emotionally intelligent first feature offers a sympathetic but clear-eyed look at the tangled skein of inequalities that entrap women (and the men they love and resent) in a Bedouin village stranded between modernization and anachronistic patriarchy,” reads a Variety review.

'Sand Storm' - Photo courtesy of 2teamproductions.com
‘Sand Storm’ – Photo courtesy of 2teamproductions.com

“This is a tale of a mother and daughter trapped in a cycle of yearning and despair. It’s a lovely, deeply affecting film,” reads a review by Vulture.

Zexer, who also wrote the script, said she based the film’s story on the 10-year friendship she enjoys with a group of women in Israel’s Bedouin  communities.

Zexer graduated from Tel Aviv University with a BFA and MFA. Her previous films include the shorts Take Note, which won the Best Fiction Film Award at the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, and Tasnim, which participated in over 120 film festivals around the world and won several international awards.

“Oh my god, I‘m so nervous I’m shaking. I feel it’s been such a week of talking and talking and now that I have to say something, I’m speechless. I’m so happy it premiered here. I’m sorry my crew had to go home and not experience this with me. I couldn’t have done this without them. I want to thank my producers who are not my producers but my family,” she said upon receiving the award.

At previous Sundance festivals, Dror Shaul’s Sweet Mud won the World Cinema Jury Prize Dramatic in 2007; and Erez Kav-El’s screenplay won the World Cinema Dramatic Screenwriting Award for Restoration in 2011.

“As filmmakers who have no chance to compete with Hollywood’s power and film marketing, Sundance is the ultimate answer and a wonderful opportunity to expose our works to the world,” Kav-El said after winning his award.

'Sand Storm' film - Photo courtesy of 2teamproductions.com
‘Sand Storm’ film – Photo courtesy of 2teamproductions.com