Life Of Saudi Arabia Filmmaker: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Despite coming from a country with conservative views of women’s role in filmmaking, Haifaa Al’Mansour became the first world-renowned director from Saudi Arabia.
A little background
The famous Saudi filmmaker grew up as the eighth child among a family of twelve. In a society with conservative cultures, her parents were liberals that treated all their children equally, regardless of gender.
When cinemas were not allowed in Saudi Arabia, her parents let her watch films that helped her see the world beyond their country. She grew up having opinions about her culture, which she was never scared to express. In a society that expected women to behave a certain way, Haifaa was allowed to be herself, with her parents encouraging her to be true to who she could be.
True to her parents’ liberal view, all their children were encouraged to get an education. She went on to study Comparative Literature at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. After working in an oil company, Haifaa Al-Mansour pursued a Master’s degree in Film Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Rising to the Limelight
Her rise to fame came with the success of her documentaries and short films. The first, The Only Way Out, won prizes in the UAE and the Netherlands. Women without Shadows, a 2005 documentary that highlighted the hidden lives of Arab women, played in 17 international festivals. The documentary also made the issue of opening cinemas paramount in Saudi Arabia.
After releasing these documentaries that received acclaim from different parts of the world, Haifaa released her first feature movie, Wadjda, which follows the story of a young girl who desired to ride a bike and the freedom to do so. Wadjda is the first full-length feature to be filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia. It also premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival and was the first movie to be submitted by Saudi Arabia as their entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
What makes Wadjda particularly special is that Haifaa filmed it at a time when women were not permitted to work outside the home. All of her directing was done from a van through a walkie-talkie.
Her journey into being the first female filmmaker from Saudi Arabia has not been without challenges. However, her passion and vision have placed her as a pioneer in filmmaking from the Middle East.
Haifaa Al-Mansour is also the author of a book titled The Green Bicycle. She has also been the recipient of the IWC Filmmaker Award. In 2019, she was announced as one of the inaugural class of ReFrame Rise Directors. A program to help accelerate the careers of mid-career female filmmakers.
From making a movie that broke barriers and shaped the future of cinema in her country. Haifaa has gone on to direct other renowned films like Mary Shelley. The Perfect Candidate and Nappily Ever After.