Pushing the boundaries.
Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haif Al Mansour is sure to raise eyebrows in her homeland with Wadjda, the first ever movie to be entirely filmed within the country's boundaries and by its first female director.
Al Mansour addressed a bustling press conference in the Madinat Jumeirah yesterday afternoon, before her movie's gala screening as part of the Dubai International Film Festival.
When asked whether she feared any sort of backlash or controversy from the film, in a country where cinema itself is banned and women have limited rights, Al Mansour replied, "No, I did not fear that making this film would harm me in one way or another.
"I believe that controversy is a healthy phenomenon that helps society in its development. However, I know very well that I belong to a conservative society, and therefore there are certain boundaries that have to be respected."
Named after its central protagonist, the film was scripted by Al Mansour and produced with backing from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Germany. The story depicts 10-year-old Wadjda's (Wd Mohammed) crafty plan to buy a beautiful green bicycle from a store which she passes every day -- although females are not legally allowed to ride bikes in the country. When her illicit schoolyard sales venture is thwarted, Wadjda decides to enter a Quran recital competition hoping to win a big cash prize.
"For me it was very important to make a film that goes beyond the conservatives versus the liberals. I wanted to show the human face of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," said Al Mansour, who received great critical acclaim upon taking Wadjda to the Venice Film Festival in August.
"We know very well that the Saudi society is a conservative one, and we know very well that the situation of women is not the best there. But there is a consensus among people working in cultural fields that the situation of women has to improve," she added.
Al Mansour denied that her groundbreaking film was intended to kickstart any kind of radical cultural movement, however.
"I don't want to use big words like revolution," said the filmmaker, whose directing duties were sometimes limited by the sensitivities of local populations. "And I don't want to talk in the language of women being victims. I wanted to show an inspiring character like Wadjda who succeeds in having her voice and is empowered.
"Films in general should contribute to social movement, and this leads to development in the right direction. In conclusion, I do not fear controversy, however I also do not seek controversial films just like that. I like to make films that represent me as a woman from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
"The most important thing is for a human being to believe in himself. Women must have faith in their skills and in their power."
* Wadjda will screen again on Saturday at 3.45pm in Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
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