Mali Wali is a visual and rhythmic exploration of the momentary power of self discovery. A woman is drawn into a choreographic experience that contorts and reshapes the framework of her body.


Edited & directed by Darine Hotait

Music arranged, produced & performed
by Tarek Yamani

'Chemali Wali' (Traditional) from Tarek
Yamani Trio album 'Lisan Al Tarab'

Dancer: Darine Hotait
Illustration by Ford Spencer

How Mali Wali came about?

Few weeks ago I took a decision to go through the clutter that's been mushrooming on my desktop for an embarrassing amount of time. It was about the right moment to put an end to my procrastination bug. While going through the ancient folders, which was in itself an act of self rediscovery, I came across extracts from one of the short films that I did during college years. 

Here I must confess that I am extremely terrible at collecting stuff like photos and souvenirs. I unhand and lose interest in objects so easily (this statement excludes books). I think that is due to my nomadic addiction. A friend describes me as 'packable'. 

About 10 years ago, while I was still a film student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, I made a 15 minutes short film titled 'Hymn for Isis' for one of my advanced directing classes. I could not recall what it was about since I lost the film and no longer have a copy of it. Not that it was something to be proud of but it would have been nice to see what I was about as a filmmaker in the making. That was the price of young age detachment. Anyway, the only things left from this film were extracts from three animated sequences of 15 seconds each. The first sequence was of a chess game. The second sequence was of a sperm making its way to meet an egg. The third one was of a woman dancing. 

It was the woman dancing sequence that really marked this process of self rediscovery. 

I recalled that sunny LA afternoon on the rooftop of my Highland Park apartment. I wasn't sure what I was doing so I turned on the camera and started dancing to no music. Dancing was always my only way to disenthrall my mind from reality. I couldn't remember clearly but knowing myself I must have danced for hours that afternoon. I ended up editing the live action footage of me dancing to a 15 seconds choreography. 

With the help of my illustrator friend, Ford Spencer, we printed the dance frame by frame, painted the frames in black and white and scanned them again to create motion. Old school animation!

Now, after having discovered this dance sequence, I decided to do something with it. I wasn't feeling good about it sitting in a folder to no avail. I thought about the different ways I could still use this work. The timing couldn't be any better. Tarek's birthday was coming up on September 9th and I was thinking what gift could I make him this year. Here I must bring up the surprise present that I made him few years ago. It was an animated promotion video for his first album 'Ashur'. From being a birthday gift, the video reached the EMMY Awards finalists in commercial category. It was the kind of gift that could last for few years with the same effect. Who said birthday gifts should be annual anyway?

So came the decision that the dance video should turn into a birthday present to my one and only Tarek. To be honest, it was very challenging to stretch 15 seconds to a full track from Tarek's music given that his shortest piece was 5 minutes long. And to top the challenge, the tune that I found most fitting with the dance was the longest of his tracks, 10 minutes. I continued with the challenge cause, well, there wasn't much to lose! 

So I took the tune 'Chemali Wali' from Tarek's last album 'Lisan Al Tarab' and played around with it. I had to reedit the track and make it 3 minutes long as I feared the video to turn out repetitive. At the end of the day, i was stuck with 15 seconds and few movements. I started playing around with editing and all kinds of effects. I was desperate to the point that I tried the kaleidoscope effect in Final Cut. That desperate!

I watched those 15 seconds on a loop for days. I would watch it in slow motion and skip frame by frame. With this repetition, I started finding the traces of a story. It was all in my movement. I suddenly remembered why I decided to make the dancing girl faceless. She expressed everything with her body. She did not need all the facial expressions that could easily reveal what she carried in her heart. She was shackled but fierce. She was inhibited but impactful. She was everything I was. She was my self discovery. A state of candid freedom! 

Suddenly, the challenge of how to technically turn 15 seconds into 3 minutes diluted. In stillness and repetition, I found everything. 
As much as Mali Wali is my lover's birthday present, it is a recollection of my younger self.

Today, it was as if we both grew younger by 10 years.