09/18/2013 12:19 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Last week, the MPAA and Sony Pictures Classics co-hosted a screening of Wadjda, the first full-length feature to be filmed entirely inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The screening was followed by a discussion with the writer and director, Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker and moderated by Elise Labott, foreign affairs correspondent for CNN. Al Mansour is an award-winning director whose voice is an inspiration within a challenging culture for women. The film is a close-up view of the daily struggles Saudi women face in a society designed to keep them silent.
Wadjda is a young school girl full of irrepressible spirit who strains against traditional rules by hatching various schemes to raise money to buy a bicycle. Even after repeated reprimands and threats of punishment from teachers and family, she continues her quest. “I have a niece, she is very bright and always wanted to do things, but her family is traditional and as she grew older wanted her to stay at home like everyone else,” said Al Mansour. “I based the story around her.”
Wadjda has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world, including the Toronto, Venice, Tribeca, Dubai and Los Angeles Film Festivals. The discussion following the screening focused on the intense isolation that Saudi women face and the small and growing ways with which they push back against their constraints. Al Mansour described some of those efforts since her upbringing in a small village, “Change is happening on a small level and that change is spiraling outward to society.”
Although Al Mansour grew up in a more liberal family, her world was confined to a small village until her father introduced her to the medium of film. Al Mansour watched many movies with her family as a child and discovered a world that she could have never dreamt of. “I fell in love with the medium and eventually learned to use it as my voice and my way to vent.” After the screening, Labott reflected that Al Mansour had “laid out the story with heart and soul and humanity.”
From Left to Right: Elise Labott and Haifaa Al Mansour
Haifaa Al Mansour
Photo Credit: Joy Asico