1 October, 2023 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
The first time I came across paramedical tattooing I was still living in the United States and I found the concept of treating scars with three-dimensional biological tattoos extremely intriguing. I was already a big fan of tattooing, but I had never heard of paramedical tattooing. However, as I researched the topic, I came across some impressive stats that showcased the social benefits of mastectomy cover up tattoos. Specifically, the 3D nipple tattoos that were designed and tattooed on the breasts of the women who have undergone a full mastectomy. In a large number of cases, these tattoos were saving marriages and saving lives by uplifting the self-esteem of women who have lost intimate parts of their body. However, this was still an unknown practice in the Arab world until Joa Antoun came along.
Tattooing is still a big taboo in the Middle East. Furthermore, nudity and vulnerability are topics that are rarely discussed in much of our conservative societies. So doing a film on this topic and working with different women to share their stories and their scars with an audience was going to be a big challenge. However, this is why I believed that this film would be special and I was convinced that more people had to hear about this process. So I reached out Joa Antoun with the aim of pitching her the film.
At first, Joa refused to meet. I heard from common friends that Joa had was not interested in doing any type of documentary and she had already turned down several film proposals and meetings. But I was determined, and I firmly believed that she will like a film proposal that deals with breast cancer and paramedical tattoos. And so, after some contemplation, I figured out a solution. I got in touch with her studio and booked a tattoo appointment with her.
I traveled to Lebanon, went to her studio, selected a design, and she began tattooing. While getting tattooed I pitched her the film, and when she found out that I was interested in focusing on her mastectomy tattoos and the transformative experiences that they facilitate for her clients, she was sold. This was a topic close to her heart and she stated that this the only topic that would have persuaded her. So, my plan worked, and I left Lebanon with a great story and an impressive tattoo.
We began production in January of 2022 and spent 6 months trying to recruit the cast members. That recruitment process was harder than we expected, but with the help of Joa, we were able to recruit some great characters. Each of these brave women came from different parts of Lebanon and all of them were from different age groups. The one thing they all shared was an unimaginable amount of suffering and some very interesting perspectives and philosophies on healing and transformation. Some of these women had been through 20 surgeries, others survived decades of different and re-occurring cancers. Their determination and positive attitudes inspired us and lifted our spirits, and so I became even more determined to translate their stories into film.
While filming their interviews, the writers and I started realizing some interesting layers emerging. Some of these layers included femininity, relationships, self-esteem, transformation, social disease, art, and existentialism. And so we adapted the script, chose new locations, experimented with different types of cinematography and addressed these layers in a visually interesting way.
Thankfully, due to the openness of these brave women, the support and facilitation of joa, and a small but well-connected production team, we were able to create a multi layered film that deeply captures the transformation of these woman through the art of paramedical tattooing.