• Sat
  • Jul 12, 2014
  • Updated: 11:10am
NewsWorld
CULTURE

Saudi Arabia's first film director is a woman, Haifaa al-Mansour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 4:45am

The director of Saudi Arabia's first feature film, showing at the Venice film festival, has explained how she beat the odds to produce the heartwarming tale of a girl's quest to own a bicycle.

In Haifaa al-Mansour's landmark film Wadjda, 10-year-old Waad Mohammed plays a girl who is also testing the boundaries of a woman's place in a highly conservative society where her love for Western music and fashions land her in trouble.

Mohammed's impish personality and resilience in the face of adversity add to the poignancy of the story and left some of the film's first viewers in tears.

"She had this vulnerability and she embodied what a Saudi teenager is," Mansour said. "I wanted to show the tension between modernity and tradition."

Mansour said she was forced to direct what is her first feature film from a van with a walkie-talkie in some of the more conservative neighbourhoods where she could not be seen in public together with male crew and cast members.

In some areas, screaming local residents would block shooting altogether.

She said finding financing also posed a problem in a country where cinemas are officially banned and any film is considered a commercial risk. Wadjda will only be available in the kingdom on DVD or on television.

"There is no film in Saudi Arabia. Showing films in public is illegal so we don't have this culture of filmmaking. I was never able to go on a film set and get training and see how things are. It was very difficult," she said.

Mansour grew up in a small Saudi town as one of 12 siblings, and she said her parents were always very supportive of her career even though they came under pressure from relatives who said filmmaking was "not honourable".

"They are very traditional Saudis but they gave me all the space to be creative and that does not happen to a lot of girls," she said.

Mansour has previously directed three shorts and the award-winning documentary Women Without Shadows, which explores the hidden lives of Gulf women.

Wadjda was co-produced by Germany's Razor Film and several Saudi firms, including Rotana Studios which is linked to the Saudi royal family. The rights have already been sold in France, Germany and Switzerland.

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