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First film ever shot in Saudi Arabia tells of young girl's hopes, dreams

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The first full-length feature film ever shot in Saudi Arabia has a daring theme considering its country of origin. "Wadja" tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who dreams of owning a bicycle. Saudi Arabia is a highly conservative Muslim nation, the only one in the world where women are still forbidden to drive. Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia's first female film director finds the film and its reception to be highly exciting.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Wadja" premiered during the 69th Venice Film Festival in Venice, in August of last year. Thirty-eight-year-old director al-Mansour says she directed the film while confined in the back of a van.

"Yes, when we go outside, the country's segregated, and men and women are not expected to work in public together. So I had to be in a van, with a monitor and a walkie-talkie and tell everyone what to do and not to do, like screaming into the phone," al Mansour related in a newspaper interview.

"It was difficult, frustrating to be confined in a small space when everybody is outside."

Barely five feet tall, the demure director says she is neither angry nor resentful about the rigors and restrictions she faced in making the film. 

"It's exciting just to be part of what's happening in Saudi now," she told the Guardian newspaper. "It's changing. It's a moving society. And for me to just be part of it, it's alright, like inside the van or outside the van. I think the most important thing is I was able to make a film, an authentic film and the first film entirely shot in Saudi. It's an amazing thing and everything else is - eh," she said, with a shrug.

"Wadja" tells the story of a young girl who yearns to buy a bicycle to race one of her male friends. Her "old school" mother warns her that if she rides a bike she can never have children. Saudi King Abdullah recently ruled that women can ride bicycles in parks and other entertainment areas if they are supervised by males and modestly clad in abayas, the body enclosing cloaks worn by Saudi women.

When asked al-Mansour if the film has made her a hero or a pariah.  "Both," she said, with a laugh.

"Now that Saudi Arabia is opening up and changing, there are many people that are pro women's rights, and they want to see things happen and change. And there are some people who are very conservative, and they think women taking professions of this type threatens values and all of that. For me, I sympathize with that. Change is such a painful process."

"Wadja" has recently debuted in theaters in the United Kingdom.

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