Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 12th 2013 Contents B10
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, July 12, 2013
It s a country without cinemas,
and no infrastructure to support
a film industry---but a young girl s
dream to own and ride her own
bicycle has become the first fea-
ture film to be written and direct-
ed by a Saudi Arabian woman.
Wadjda, by 38-year-old Haifaa
Al Mansour, tells the tale of eleven-
year-old Wadjda, a girl living in
the Saudi capital Riyadh, who has
her sights set on a green bike she
sees in a shop window.
In a country where women are
still legally forbidden to drive a
car, even riding a bicycle is frowned
upon, and so Wadjda must find
the money to realise her dream by
her own methods---from illegal
activities such as selling mix tapes
in the playground, to entering a
Al Mansour is married to an
American, and now lives in the
neighbouring Gulf state of Bahrain,
but claims "it was very important
for me to come back and tell a
story of my home."
"I really wanted to set it in
Saudi. I wanted women there to
see something of their lives in this
"It s a place where telling a story
is not always easy and there were
lots of things to stop me. I had a
lot of boundaries placed around
me, but it is worth it.
"I just wanted to tell a simple
story about girls, that still projected
a deeper message about our soci-
ety. There is always something fas-
cinating about a character who
won t give in."
Whilst the director, who studied
film in Australia, had made short
features before, it took her five
years to make Wadjda, mainly
because, she says, "securing the
funding and getting the filming
permission to make a movie in
Saudi Arabia was so hard."
Eventually she was backed by
Rotana, the TV production com-
pany owned by Saudi Prince
Alwaleed Bin Talal, who is known
as a supporter of women s rights.
Even then, Al Mansour adds,
"when we shot in Riyadh, I could
not publicly mix with my crew,
who were men, so I often had to
work from the back of a van, and
talk to the actors on a walkie talkie,
while I watched the scene on a
Wadjda, which stars a first-time
actress, 13-year-old Waad
Mohammed, has received multiple
awards, including from the Venice
International Film Festival where
it first screened, but its maker says
she had no intention of becoming
a trailblazer, or a spokesman for
women s rights in Saudi Arabia.
"Being a Saudi woman, there
are a lot of situations that I find
difficult, but I don t want this to
become a story because I am angry.
"I want to entertain people, and
it s very important not to bring
frustration into screenwriting, but
for the public to feel that you sim-
ply want to talk to them, to tell
them a story.
"I don t think confrontation
works in this part of the world,
they just don t respond to it. You
have to change a society from
within. Perhaps with the first draft
of Wadjda, I was preaching too
"Yes, there are things that you
want to say, but you say it through
the characters---you give them life."
Al Mansour is one of 12 children,
and says she discovered a passion
for film from her father, the Saudi
poet Abdul Mansour, who played
her videos as a child.
She acknowledges that such
encouragement is not always
forthcoming for other aspiring
female directors within Saudi Ara-
bia, where all women are legally
obliged to have a male guardian,
whatever their age.
"It is a huge struggle to be a female
and a director here Societies in the Arab
world can be vicious to women. They
want them to conform and not break
In Saudi, we are very tribal, and too
many women are afraid of what their
family, their neighbours, and others in
their tribe will think of them. They
need a lot of encouragement, to learn
to trust themselves, and not to be
"However, politically and socially, all
the conditions are coming together in
this region to make it one of the most
exciting places in the world to be a
filmmaker, and to make movies that
the rest of the world will want to see.
"I feel so honoured, honestly, to be
putting a human face on my culture.
Too many women are invisible here,
and I hope, in a small way, I can inspire
other Saudi women to break away from
the ordinary and to find success."
In 2009, the World Economic Forum
ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134
countries when it came to parity on
gender issues, but Al Mansour believes
the situation is changing, highlighting
the case of 19-year-old Sarah Attar,
who at the 2012 London Olympics
became the first Saudi woman to com-
pete in track and field events.
"You know, people will have seen
that girl compete, and think, I know
who she is, I know her parents. If they
let her compete, why not me as well? "
While she admits she has received
hate mail for making the film---which
accuses her of "not being religious"---
Al Mansour believes many in Saudi
Arabia will be watching the movie.
"Even though it can t have a cinema
release, it will be shown on TV and on
DVD. I screened it for my sisters and
their daughters. They were amazed to
see themselves and their schools, and
I felt for the first time, they had an
intimate portrayal of their culture. It
was very touching."
Saudi Arabian film-maker breaks boundaries
Novice actress Waad Mohammed, left, who plays 11-year-Wadjda, and director Haifaa Al Mansour. AP PHOTO
Links Archive July 11th 2013 July 13th 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page