Magazine article Variety

Femme Arab Helmers Break out of Region

Magazine article Variety

Femme Arab Helmers Break out of Region

Article excerpt

Film funds and fests help women put their dreams onscreen

Saudi Arabia, a country that still forbids its women citizens to drive, has submitted its first-ever feature film for Academy Award consideration: "Wadjda," a critically acclaimed triumph from female Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour.

Pic, which follows a 10-year-old girl in Riyadh who dreams of owning a bicycle, is not just Saudi Arabia's first stab at Oscar. It is the first fulllength film ever made in the desert kingdom, which has no movie theaters and no production infrastructure to speak of. The movie's success, says Al-Mansour, is a sign that Saudi Arabia's mores are shifting.

"Saudi is such a closed place, and a lot of people don't know much about it. And now it's opening a bit," she says.

The upward trajectory of female filmmakers in this region has been startling, with Middle Eastern women trouncing gender stereotypes and making films despite hurdles including minimal funding, poor education and heaps of homegrown skepticism. Several femme-helmed pics have become film festival darlings, and Al-Mansour's Oscar hopeful follows those of Israel's Rama Burstein and the Palestinian terri- A tories' Annemarie Jacir, both of whom had their films selected to represent their countries at the 85th Academy Awards; Lebanon's Nadine Labaki, whose "Where Do We Go Now?" was tapped for Lebanon the year before; and Afghanistan's Sonia Nassery Cole, who helmed "The Black Tulip," her nation's submission for the 83rd Academy Awards.

And if you follow the money, success is undeniable: From the Sanad grant of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which offers half a million dollars' worth of support to helmers from the Arab world, to the deep pockets of the Doha Film Institute, which has followed the lead of Qatar's Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned to bolster the women directors of their region, femme helmers have more resources, and more friends in high places, than ever before. …

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