An interview with Valentina El Harizi, director of “ Behind the Scenes”

Valentina El Harizi


«Instead of making documentaries, I want to use my unique approach to filmmaking to talk about complex social issues in a more poetic (but equally as effective) way. Compassion is the key to progress, and what better way of building compassion to a subject if an audience can enter and personally relate to the psyche of a film’s character.»



At just the age of 17, Valentina El Harizi was nominated – among actresses like Ana de Armas – for the prestigious Septimius Awards in Amsterdam for her performance on her directorial debut short film titled “Behind the Scenes”. Her clever and witty storytelling, coupled with her unique French-Argentinian heritage, has allowed her to create impactful films that resonate with audiences. Valentina’s dedication to her craft and her ability to bring characters to life on screen have garnered recognition and praise within the industry. Inspired by everyday absurdity, Valentina’s artistic choices are heavily defined by their ironic/satirical undertones, surrealist and impressionist qualities, and European cinema influences. 



“Behind the Scenes” explores the hidden struggles and facades within relationships in the age of social media. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind this concept and what motivated you to delve into the impact of perception and authenticity in the digital world?


I am part of the first generation that really grew up with social media.  As Instagram came out with its unique and beloved app features, I was beginning middle school. I have first handedly witnessed how human relationships and identity have evolved through the rise of social media.  If before we might have joked about “doing it for the gram”, we now live in an era where undocumented events have become meaningless. The most noticeable change, however, was after the pandemic. As we returned to “normal” life, I realized how “unnormal” our social media life had truly become.  For example, my once bubbly and spontaneous best friend had become a robot programmed and hooked to her phone. It was particularly devastating to see her suffer from anxiety and severe body dysmorphia caused by the constant influx of social media influencers’ posts, promoting unrealistic beauty expectations. I also knew she wasn’t the only one feeling this self-doubt.
Generations are shaped by what they see in movies. I, personally, go back to films to sort out my feelings. To my surprise, there was no film addressing mental health issues around social media, especially from a young adult perspective.  Using the proceeds I saved over the years from a small business I own (I produce slime), I decided to write, direct and act in a short film that would tackle these issues and make my generation feel seen. And that’s how “Behind The Scenes: the short film” came to life.



Your film contains several elements that resonate with the different “aesthetics” promulgated on Instagram and TikTok among the younger generation, and seem to evoke the desire to have a defined self-image as opposed to the inability to truly communicate. What do you think are the long-term effects of this continuous exposure of self?


I’ve observed that the images posted online by couples or individuals can be a curated online façade. People find comfort hiding behind their screens at the expense of real life experiences. Also, being part of the social media community of my friends and acquaintances, I have witnessed that, paradoxically, social media has made true and real in-person communication more difficult or estranged.

I hope that viewers after watching my short film can take a minute and ask themselves: “since when has an image had more value than the real thing?”. With social media, we can metamorphose into the different versions of “me” we want to become – or at least show to others. But how can we pretend to create genuine relationships with others, if we can no longer be authentic with ourselves? We live in a world where we are pushed to be constantly documenting everything that is happening to us, instead of us being the thing that is happening.



Your directorial style incorporates unique artistic choices, and as a young director, you have already garnered recognition and praise for your directorial debut. How do you see your unique heritage, background, and European cinema influences shaping your artistic choices and storytelling approach? What themes or subjects do you aspire to explore in your future projects, and how do you envision continuing to make an impact through your filmmaking?


Whether it’s in paintings or in film, I’ve always been fascinated by the impressionist movement. French filmmakers from the 1920’s like Marcel L’hebier and Abel Gance have been an impactful inspiration of mine when it comes to my approach to storytelling. When the impressionist movement blossomed in France in the 1920’s, films were still silent. Therefore, the storytelling almost entirely depended on the visuals of the film. Personally, I favor visual storytelling over dialogue.
With “Behind The Scenes”, I experimented with striking color schemes, dramatic set designs and intricate surreal sound design to create a sort of “emotional realism” throughout the film. I like to think of the production design as a third active character in the film. The set is the true reflection of the characters’ thoughts, emotions, worries and desires. For example, I decided to leave the light fixture setups in some shots, symbolizing the artificial and fabricated world social media has created and the girlfriend’s constant need to have “the perfect lighting” to document her every move.

I like to combine my passion for storytelling with social subjects that I am equally passionate about. Instead of making documentaries, I want to use my unique approach to filmmaking to talk about complex social issues in a more poetic (but equally as effective) way. Compassion is the key to progress, and what better way of building compassion to a subject if an audience can enter and personally relate to the psyche of a film’s character. As for future subjects I aspire to explore, I am extremely interested in the social-economic significance of favela (Brazil’s urban shantytown) life and would also like to explore the theme of food insecurity.




“Behind the Scenes” incorporates an outro that introduces your partner organization, “Reboot & Recover,” dedicated to helping individuals suffering from screen addiction. How do you see the film’s dedication to this social cause aligning with its storytelling and the impact you hope to achieve? Could you share more about your political engagement and efforts to advocate for legislation regulating addictive social media apps’ software?


Steve Jobs once said that “the most powerful person in the world is the story teller.” As a filmmaker, I intend to bring concrete change to this social issue through my storytelling. By partnering with Reboot & Recover, I want to bring awareness to this organization which provides resources and treatments to help with screen addiction. Last December, I hosted an online fundraising event through my film’s platform to raise money for Reboot & Recover…

In addition, given that the conversation about youth and social media has dominated headlines and policy debates – from Capitol Hill to state legislators in the US – I am using my voice as a youth leader to engage policymakers. For example, this past January, I was honored to meet with Representative Jamie Raskin’s office – a leader on issues of youth mental health and social media. We agreed with his office that once the short film is distributed on a streaming platform, that they would share the film with other policy advisors. Ultimately, I want to reach the widest audience and to push for real change through federal legislation.



What are you currently working on?


Since February, I’ve been researching the social, economic and political situation of favela life in Rio de Janeiro. Since my first trip to Brazil, when I witnessed – among other things – the humiliating “safari” tourism model where tourists ride jeeps while taking pictures of residents and their poverty, I’ve been intellectually captivated by Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, and their social and economic significance beyond what the eye can see. The research I am carrying out will serve as the foundation for a screenplay I plan to write for a social satire feature film that will shed light on the complex issue of favela life and the accompanying poverty and food insecurity.