This morning, Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour shared details of what it’s like to be the first female director of a Saudi film which is also the first-ever feature shot entirely inside the Kingdom. Speaking of Venice Horizons entry Wadjda, she said she was sometimes relegated to directing by telephone. Saudi law does not allow women and men to be seen together outside so “It was a major obstacle to go out in the street and talk to my actors,” she said. The film, which will head to Telluride next, is about a young girl in a Riyadh suburb who goes to great lengths to raise money for the bicycle she desperately covets.
Produced by the German folks behind Waltz With Bashir, Wadjda will not have a chance to be seen theatrically inside Saudi. Movie theaters are illegal, so the film there will go out through DVD and pay-TV. Al Mansour said she also had a difficult time shooting since “people don’t want cameras in their neighborhoods.” To cast her young lead, she relied on scouts as a casting call was out of the question. “It’s unacceptable for women to be in front of the camera.” But the director struck a positive note when she added, “Saudi Arabia is opening up. I’m not saying it’s heaven, but we saw Saudi sending women to the Olympics. There is an opportunity now for women to pursue their dreams.”