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Al-Mansour: It’s an exciting time in Saudi Arabia now

NEW YORK: Haifaa Al-Mansour had to go to great lengths to make the groundbreaking Saudi film “Wadjda” — and not only because it is the first feature made entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first directed by a Saudi woman.
Because of regulations about public mingling, she had to direct outdoor scenes via a walkie-talkie, watching on a monitor from a parked van.
“It made me work harder,” she said at a discussion following the film’s North American premiere Sunday evening at the Tribeca Film Festival, saying that she instead rehearsed longer with the actors.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi joined Al-Mansour, after the film for a discussion that spoke both to the global struggle of women’s rights, and the regional differences.
“I hope we’re beginning to realize just as we, as human beings, are linked not ranked, in a deep sense, revolutions are linked not ranked,” said Steinem.
“Wadjda,” which earlier premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will be released this fall by Sony Pictures Classics, is about an independent-minded 10-year-old girl (Waad Mohammed) and her mother (Reem Abdullah) struggle through. It’s a subtle, largely optimistic film in which the girl, Wadjda, strives to simply own a bicycle.
Al-Mansour, who made the movie with the permission of the Saudi government, also struck a positive tone Sunday.
“It’s an exciting time in the country now,” said Al-Mansour. “They’re empowering women and they are giving more chances. Girls can ride bicycles now.”
Earlier this month, women were allowed to ride bikes, although only in restricted recreational areas. In 2011, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run for office beginning in 2015.
“Wadjda” isn’t brazen, Salbi, an Iraqi humanitarian who’s working on a documentary about women and the Arab Spring said, but “is beautifully pushing the envelope.”
“Wadjda” is expected to air on Saudi television and be released on DVD. Al-Mansour summarized her film not in political terms, but instead called it a movie “about hope, embracing change and moving ahead.”

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