DOHA, Dec 13 – Alongside celebrities gracing the red carpet at film festivals in Egypt, the traditional powerhouse of regional cinema, young Arab female directors are making a splash with documentaries tackling subjects ranging from femicide to revolution.
Taking a break from networking at the El-Gouna Film Festival on the Red Sea in October, Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour, 30, spoke about her feature documentary women of my life.
“The main theme is the life and death of young women and girls in Iraq. It explores how Iraqi society treats femicide as if it were normal,” she told AFP.
Ghandour said that “in recent years a new generation has emerged, born in the 90s and 2000s with a new leadership”, especially after the October 2019 protests calling for the overthrow of the ruling class in Iraq.
“We want to free ourselves from the stereotypes in which world cinema traps us,” she said.
“It’s like there are trends and they (international donors) want us to follow these funding guidelines,” Ghandour said.
“What if I want to make a horror movie? I want to do whatever I want as long as it’s high quality.
women of my lifein which she plays one of the main characters, follows the horrific death of a young woman suspected of having been executed by male relatives.
“As Iraqis in general, our lives are unstable, but the targeted killing of women in particular… cannot be trivialised,” she said.
For Rafia Oraidi, an independent Palestinian producer, the fractured landscape of life under Israeli occupation provides a story-rich picture.
Working with Palestinian-American filmmaker Hind Shoufani on They planted strange treesthe international team provided the final touches to post-production.
“It’s a meditative journey that takes place in the Galilee and retraces the daily life of the inhabitants of the village where the director is from,” said Oraidi.
Oraidi cites independent Palestinian directors such as Hany Abu-Assad and Elia Suleiman whose films have won Oscar nominations and Cannes awards.
“Without the filmmakers’ personal attention, patience and perseverance…despite the conditions we live in, we wouldn’t have a single film on screen,” she said.
“We want to show that there are many other stories in Palestine besides war, destruction and occupation,” Oraidi said.
She said the biggest challenge for independent Arab filmmakers is the lack of facilities such as bespoke studios.
This “inflates the budget and we are forced to partner with other co-producers to secure funding,” she said.
Do better than Hollywood
Tunisian screenwriter and director Fatma Riahi is at the beginning of a feature film, My father killed Bourguibawhich attempts to “tell the story of Tunisia over the past 30 years through a biographical and personal account”.
Focusing on his father, the documentary follows his role in a plan to overthrow Habib Bourguiba’s regime in a military coup in 1987 and its current repercussions following the 2011 revolution that toppled his successor Zine El Abidine. Ben Ali.
“I hope the film…provides an alternative reading…of Tunisian history…from coups to revolutions to what we currently live under (President) Kais Saied,” said declared the director of about thirty years.
Saied himself sacked the government and seized sweeping powers on July 25, citing an “imminent threat” to the country.
“For women in Arab cinema, the number of women directors, for example, is always lower than that of men. It is not only a regional phenomenon but also a global one,” Riahi told AFP.
But Arab cinema seems to be doing better than Hollywood, where of the 250 biggest films released last year, only 18% were directed by women.
A 2019 study by Northwestern University in Doha, for example, found that around 50% of all filmmakers in the Arab world are women. — Studio ETX