‘Xoftex’ Director Noaz Deshe Works on Ukraine Documentary With Pussy Riot’s Pyotr Verzilov, ‘House of Cards’ Creator Beau Willimon

Noaz Deshe, whose “Xoftex” had its world premiere this week in competition at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, is in post-production with his next project.

Deshe tells Variety the new film is a documentary set in Ukraine, which is a collaboration with Russian dissident Pyotr Verzilov – an artist and member of the anti-Kremlin performance art group Pussy Riot – and “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon.

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Deshe – a Romanian citizen whose grandfather was Ukrainian – won’t be drawn on the documentary’s title, but says it is “about intimacy and love in a time of love and dreams.”

Deshe’s unsettling sophomore feature “Xoftex” is a deep dive into the world of the “other.” Like his acclaimed 2013 directorial debut “White Shadow,” about an albino boy, “Xoftex” takes viewers into a landscape of alienation and pain that is challenging to watch.

Inspired by a vast Greek refugee camp named Softex just north of Thessaloniki, that houses mostly Arab asylum seekers fleeing war in the Middle East, “Xoftex” is a liminal space where time loses its meaning as people who have lost all control over their own lives await bureaucratic decisions that will decide their destiny.

The film emerged from a documentary project Deshe began after visiting Softex, having been told that the rows of converted cargo container that housed the refugees was the “worst” camp in Greece.


“I went there one night and met some people and they said come in and talk to people, they have stories they want to share… problems with the administration, food,” Deshe says.

Guided by the camp interpreter, Bajhat, people gathered around sharing stories: “One told a ghost story, another about their ancestors stepping through the wall,” he recalls. “The next thing is that we are running through the nearby train yards, filming an action movie.”

The experience led to a theater workshop set up by Intervolve, a small NGO, and Deshe was inspired to get more involved. It is out of the stories created during a series of theater workshops that “Xoftex” emerged, including a key film-within-a-film where the refugees create their own zombie movie.

“People need to do something in this horrid time and place; a lot of people you meet in the camps don’t want to talk about the heartbreak they went through, but instead concentrate on creating a construct of their lives – what their lives will be, what languages they should learn, where they will live, what jobs they will get.”

This helps occupy people who spend their lives waiting for a phone call that will decide whether they get asylum or not.

Drawing on the story of two brothers he met in the camp, Deshe creates a surreal, often dreamlike tale where fact and fiction merge and morph. Nasser, the younger of the two brothers seen in the film, dreams of creating a life in Sweden and inventing an impossible Tesla-like energy machine. He appears to achieve this, re-uniting with his sister in the Scandinavian country, before a shocking dream-like scene suggests a darker fate has already caught up with the sibling.

Those that live in the limbo of refugee camps are in a constant state of tension, Deshe says.

“This state of mind, the pressure, not being able to understand where you are – you are not here or there – you cannot define it, you are in the hands of a system, you don’t know if you are criminal or not, it creates these constructs.”

Deshe hopes the film may help audiences find some sense of empathy for those whose experiences are so different from that of most people, although he denies it is an explicitly political film.

“I hope that people see this film and see the other differently and see the other in themselves. The point is to show you something you have not seen so you think twice about your values and the ingrained racism [you are likely to have] just by growing up in a certain place.”


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