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First step for female Saudi filmmakers

wadjdaFor a country with no cinemas that doesn’t allow women to drive cars, you have to wonder why a woman would ever want to make a film there. But filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour has managed to conquer all the obstacles and become the first Saudi Arabian woman to write and direct a feature film in the Arab state.

Her film Wadjda centres on a young girl living in the country’s capital who dreams of owning bicycle and has to find ways of raising money to do so. The film went on to collect a handful of awards at the Venice Film Festival and won best film at the Dubai International Film Festival.

Speaking to BBC News, Al Mansour said: "I really wanted to set it in Saudi. I wanted women there to see something of their lives in this film. 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.”

The film took five years to make due to funding and filming permission difficulties, but was eventually backed by Saudi Prince Alawaleed Bin Talal’s owned production company Rotana. However, despite the backing of Rotana - which is part of a large pan-Arab media conglomerate - filming in Saudi Arabia still had its challenges.

Al Mansour couldn’t publicly mix with her male crew, so she often had to work from the back of van, watching the scenes through a monitor and communicating with the cast via radio. She even received hate mail for making the film.

Despite the difficulties of making the feature, she praised the country: “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."

Al Mansour will be chairing the jury for the Luigi De Laurentiis Venice Award for a debut film at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, which runs from 28 August to 7 September.

Have you ever filmed in Saudi Arabia? How did you overcome any filming challenges? Let us know via our Facebook page.

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