|Waad Mohammed & Haifaa Al Mansour|
If you are a regular reader of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog, you will know I have been following the progress of Saudi Arabian women ever since I went to the Eurogulf Forum on October 16-18, 2008, almost four years ago, and heard, with my own ears, HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal and HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman say they were going to give women more freedom.
Then, in 2011, I met Shaida Alem and Raja Alem, two Saudi Arabian sisters from Mecca who were representing their kingdom for the La Biennale International Art Festival. You can read my June 2, 2011 post about that encounter, below:
Now, in 2012, we have Haifaa Al Mansour directing Saudi Arabia's first full-length feature film, with Prince Al-Waleed Bin Tal given prominent thanks in the closing credits. It makes me think that what the Princes said back in 2008 was sincere -- since it is actually happening -- and adds credibility to everything else they said, too. You can read my post of October 22, 2008, below:
WADJDA was shot in the city of Riyadh with both a German and Saudi Arabian crew. Since a full-length feature had never been shot before in the kingdom, and since there are no movie theaters, Saudi Arabian crews were familiar with TV, not movies. In addition, men and women are not allowed to co-exist on the same street. A woman working out on the street with men, let alone directing them in a film production, was such anomaly that occasionally Haifaa had to dash into the production van and hide.
|Haiffa Al Mansour|
Wadjda is a spirited 10-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. She listens to pop music, wears jeans and sneakers beneath her black robe -- since she has not yet reached puberty, she does not wear a burqa. She has a warm relationship with her mother, who threatens to "marry her off" every time Wadjda misbehaves. She wants a bicycle so she can race Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), her best friend, even though he is a boy and they are not supposed to play together. She makes bracelets and sells them to her classmates to earn money, and runs illicit errands for the older girls at her school, but the new green bike she has her eye on costs 800 riyals, or about $213, and she isn't even close.
Wadjda's main nemesis is the headmistress at school, Hussa (Ahd), a sexy woman who is determined to break Wadjda's rebellious free spirit. In one of the film's most revealing lines, Hussa says, "You remind me of myself." Instead of encouraging Wadjda's independence, Hussa tries time and again to force Wadjda to conform, and each time Wadjda cleverly outmaneuvers her. When a Koran contest with 1000 riyal prize is announced, Wadjda decides to get religion, and apologizes to Hussa, allowing the shrew to think she has triumphed.
When asked about distribution in Saudi Arabia, Rotana Studios, which is owned by Prince Al-Waleed Bin Tal, said that they can broadcast on their own television network -- which happens to be the biggest in the Middle East, and distribute it on DVD. The entire production is a smorgasbord of international cooperation, with Razor Film from Germany producing -- both Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner were here -- in fact, it was their ten-year anniversary.
It was exciting to get a peek into the Saudi Kingdom, and a smart move on the part of certain enlightened Princes to tap into a natural resource more precious than oil: Saudi Arabian women.
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog