Saudi Arabia to compete for first time at Oscars

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Saudi Arabia, where cinemas are banned, is to compete for an Oscar for the first time next year with feminist film “Wadjda” directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, a Saudi official announced Sunday.

The movie tells of a young girl’s quest to own a bicycle in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom where women cannot drive.

“Wadjda will represent Saudi Arabia at the Oscars, competing for the best foreign-language film, in a first for the kingdom,” Sultan al-Bazie, who heads the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, told AFP.

The decision follows “the success which the film and its director have achieved at several international festivals,” he said.

Directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker and shot entirely in the Gulf state, the film won best Arabic feature award at the Dubai Film Festival last year and picked up an award in Cannes in March.

“Wadjda” was co-produced by Germany’s Razor Film and several Saudi companies, including Rotana Studios which is linked to a member of the royal family.

But the film, first released in France, will only be seen in the kingdom on DVD or on television.

Mansour has said she was forced to direct what is her first feature film from a van with a walkie-talkie in some of the more conservative districts where she could not be seen in public together with male crew and cast members.

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