The first full-length feature film by a Saudi female director, Haifa al-Mansour, kicked off Beirut’s bi-annual film festival on Friday.
The film entitled ‘‘Wadjda’’, which has already been screened in Qatar and Venice, was the highlight of the night and its director was hailed as a role model.
‘‘This is the first film that has ever been filmed in Riyadh city. I am so happy and proud to be contributing in the production of the film industry in Saudi Arabia,” said al-Mansour.
The film features the story of a 10-year-old year old girl fighting to get a bicycle so she can race her brother around the block. Though the film’s storyline may sound simple, film director al-Mansour says the girl’s mission isn’t that easy in the Saudi society.
“The movie talks about the story of a 10-year-old girl who is trying to get a bicycle in a society like Saudi society, a conservative and traditional society. But she tries to overcome the obstacles that face her with a lot of humor and naughtiness,” she said.
Despite it being considered a ground-breaking film by many audiences, al-Mansour said she did not wish to challenge Saudi society.
‘‘It is important that we make films that express ourselves in a human way and I know that I belong to a conservative society like the Saudi society. So I tried to make a film that respects the fact that this is a conservative society, and I respect that this society might be wary of film as a new form of art so I did not try to be at odds with this society. But at the same time I tried to keep my voice as an artist and to have a film that represents me and my opinion and it is very important to have this balance,” she said.
Ayam Beirut is a week-long film festival that features documentaries and short and full-length films by various Arab filmmakers.
Its creative director Zeina Sfeir explained how the idea for the festival first developed.
‘‘Ayam Beirut Al Cinema’iya is an Arabic film festival that takes place once every two years in Beirut and is organized by Beirut’s cultural association. It was founded because the people who founded this association are mostly cinematographers or people who love cinema, so we are holding it in the hope of having a cinema movement in Beirut.
When we started in 2001, the cinema movement in Beirut and the Arab world was not the same,” said Sfeir.
This year’s screenings include full-length films from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria and many others.
Organizers chose Wadjda to open the festival with because they said the film deserved to be put in the spotlight.
‘‘We as organizers, saw the film and loved it, we were convinced by it, and we support Haifa and her experience and that is why we are happy because this is a big thing in the Arab world and in an event like this, we have to highlight such a film and that is why we started the festival with it,” said Sfeir.
Nadine Labaki, one of Lebanon’s best-known filmmakers, said she was impressed by all the Arab films being made recently.
‘‘The Arab Film Festival is a very good initiative because Arab films are proving to be very good, especially now that the world’s attention is on the Arab world, so we have to take advantage of that,” said Labaki, who won a top prize at the Toronto festival in 2011 for her film “Where Do We Go Now”.
The festival continues until March 25, 2013.