Filmmaker Jude Chehab Captures a Story of Faith, Loss, and Love in ‘Q’

A Muslim woman wearing a white headscarf cries with her eyes closed
A still from "Q," a debut film by CAAM Fellow Jude Chehab.
CAAMFest's Centerpiece Documentary presentation by first time feature documentary filmmaker and CAAM Fellow explores her family's hidden matriarchal order's impact on faith, family, and community.

When filmmaker Jude Chehab first decided to interview her mother, Hiba, she felt a deep urge that her family’s story must be told. Three generations of women in Chehab’s family – her mother, grandmother, and herself – had belonged to an exclusive matriarchal order of Muslim women in Lebanon. That is, until a certain conflict between her mother and the group deeply impacted the family’s relationship with the community – and with faith itself. 

Chehab’s exploration culminated in Q, the 29-year-old Lebanese American director’s first feature documentary. The film, selected as CAAMFest’s centerpiece documentary and screening on May 11 at SFMOMA, is an intimate and captivating portrait of the complexities of family dynamics, religion, and loss. 

She developed the film as a 2020 CAAM Fellow, documenting her mother as she navigated the meaning of her choices and sacrifices made for the Anisa, the charismatic matriarchal leader of the group Al-Qubaysiat. 

At its core, Q is a film about love, made with love – and, as Chehab put it, it’s Hiba’s “last love letter” to the Anisa. “All I really wanted was for her to feel some sort of closure and document something that had such profound pain in her life but also so much beauty, and to be able to honor both of those.” 

A group of Muslim women put their hands up together in a circle wearing all white
A still from “Q.”

But how do you film a group that is deliberately kept a secret? “When I first started filming, I was filming ex members of the group. I was like, sneaking into their mosque, filming them undercover. And then I was just like, What am I doing? This is not the film I want to make.” 

In a way, the inaccessibility of the group challenged her to look inwards: “I had to be honest with my intentions and really just felt we don’t need more bad images of Muslims out there.” Chehab said. “And so what is the role that I now possess?”

Chehab decided to turn to what she knew best — her own family. Making an intimate family portrait instead allowed her a unique space to explore topics and questions that would have otherwise remained unsaid. 

In emotionally charged scenes, Hiba lets the viewers into her inner turmoil through poems and words from her journal. In another, Chehab confronts her father, a man of few words, about the pain of watching his wife struggle between faith and family. Hiba shares a private moment on camera during a tearful prayer. 

silhouettes of woman wearing headscarfs in a large field
A scene from “Q,” a documentary by Jude Chehab, who won a best new director award at Tribeca Festival.

Chehab followed her intuition as a filmmaker. She grew up experimenting with storytelling thanks to full-hearted support from her mother, a poet and stage actor. After graduating from film school, Chehab honed her craft rigorously as a cinematographer and video editor, working with the likes of the BBC, Doctors Without Borders, and Sesame Street, which helped her step into her own film as a director and shooter. 

In one particularly dreamy and striking sequence in Q, hijabi women stand in a grass field and gaze intently into the lens, while Hiba describes her dreams of Anisa off-screen. “When I filmed the field scenes, I didn’t know where they would go at all,” Chehab recalled about her instinctive choices. “Let’s just shoot it, and we’ll see what happens later. But I think that it worked.” What resulted is a powerful visual metaphor for how the group haunted her mother.

Chehab’s unique approach caught the eye of Senain Kheshgi, a Pakistani American documentary filmmaker behind films like the three-time Emmy-nominated The Diplomat and the award-winning Project Kashmir. Kheshgi ultimately became Chehab’s CAAM Fellowship mentor.

A Lebanese American young woman wearing glasses and a headscarf poses with her right hand rested on her forehead
Filmmaker Jude Chehab explores her mother’s relationship with a matriarchal group in Lebanon.

“When we were first picking our mentees and I saw her work, I knew immediately that she was a singular voice,” Kheshgi recalled. From then on, their relationship naturally evolved into one of mutually sharing their perspectives on filmmaking and spirituality – which was crucial for Chehab. 

“I remember that first phone call, [Senain] was like, ‘I love the scene of the family eating. We don’t see that. We don’t see our families just sitting down having a meal.’ And it was just really profound to me, because I think it was so validating,” Chehab said. 

Despite different cultural backgrounds, they shared the passion and yearning for nuanced, multifaceted portrayals of Muslim women and families, and recognized that even subtle details can make a world of a difference. “I think as Asian Arab filmmakers, we’re constantly being questioned. Every decision is being questioned,” Chehab said. 

Since its first screenings, the film has resonated with audiences across cultural lines and won awards for Best New Documentary Director at Tribeca Festival and Best International First Feature at Sheffield DocFest. And Kheshgi believes its impact would be significant. “We have to see ourselves to know that we can do it. And we’re still in that nascent phase of seeing complex, personal, nuanced stories about Muslims and Muslim women,” Kheshgi said.

“Some people would ask, ‘How do you do it as a daughter and a filmmaker? Like, how do you separate it?’ And I feel like it’s about not separating the two,” Chehab said. “When you handle the camera, you handle it with care.”

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Q is CAAMFest’s centerpiece documentary film, playing on Saturday May 11, 2024 at 2:20pm at SF MOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater. To buy tickets, visit

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