Empowering women on the silver screen at the Dubai Film Festival

Haifaa Al-Mansour is an internationally-acclaimed director and is working hard to empower women through film.
Updated 08 December 2017
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Empowering women on the silver screen at the Dubai Film Festival

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s iconic film director Haifaa Al-Mansour has added another feather in her cap — winning the IWC Filmmaker Award at the Dubai International Film Festival. Arab News spoke to Al-Mansour about female voices and the choices she has had to make during her rise to the top.

The 43-year-old mother-of-two, who acquired worldwide acclaim for her award-winning feature film “Wadjda,” is known for taking on controversial subjects, such as orthodoxy in traditional Saudi culture and female empowerment.

With her repertoire now including several feature films, documentaries and short films, Al-Mansour has emerged as a significant personality in Arab cinema.

Her most recent project, “Miss Camel,” was shortlisted for the IWC Filmmaker Award at this year’s Dubai International Film Festival. The jury for the prestigious award — the winner of which received a $100,000 cash prize — was headed up by Cate Blanchett and Al-Mansour was up against three other notable filmmakers from the GCC. before her win was announced on Thursday night.

An endearing combination of strong will and humility, the friendly, down-to-earth film director shared her thoughts on what it means to be shortlisted for the awards.

“My film Miss Camel is a passion project, so I’m really excited to see it gaining momentum. It’s something I started developing a long time back and it’s about a subject close to my heart, female empowerment, so I hope to continue the journey with it,” she told Arab News.

With female empowerment fast becoming a zeitgeist in the Middle East and around the world, Al-Mansour believes that “we need to seize the moment — it’s not enough to complain, we need to show what we are capable of. And we are capable of a lot. In cinema, I think we need to make more films that are powerful and women-centric.”

Women’s issues have played a major role in many of Al-Mansour’s films, with her very first feature film being based on an enterprising young Saudi girl who signs up to a Qur’an recitation competition in order to buy the green bicycle that has caught her eye.

“Growing up in Saudi Arabia, where it’s very conservative, being a woman felt very heavy... I just wanted to give an alternative voice, so women can see themselves as leaders, as agents of change, as victorious — we are not victims, we are survivors. This is what I want to give my daughter, my sister, my mother,” she said, explaining why she chooses to zero in on women’s empowerment issues.

Al-Mansour has not had an easy ride and had to learn a particular set of skills in order to sell herself and her films in the highly-competitive industry.

“In filmmaking, specifically, finding funding is always hard. For me, coming from a place where there’s no film industry, it’s even harder to find the right partners who see your vision and help you realize that vision. It took me five years to find any interest in my first film and even now, after three successful features, financing is still difficult — it’s just how the business works.

“For me personally, as an artist, it was also hard to be a saleswoman, but I had to do it. It was worth doing all that to bring my story to life.”

Al-Mansour has broken out onto the international movie scene — her newly-released film “Mary Shelley” stars Hollywood star Elle Fanning and tells the story of a teenager’s romance with English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley — but Saudi Arabia remains close to her heart.

“Women in Saudi Arabia have been fighting very hard for their rights, there are a lot of people who are very active there and Saudi society is moving forward. Change is a very painful process, every society needs to take its own pace to embrace change. It’s going in the right direction though… it has been happening for a long time, but now it’s really accelerating,” she said.

Women have played an important part in Al-Mansour’s life, so much so that she credits her mother as being a role model.

“My mother definitely is the strongest influence in my life. She is a very strong woman and I really appreciate everything she has done to help me develop my own voice. She was an everyday rebel — standing up for herself in small ways. She didn’t care about criticism, how people saw her, as long as she was happy.

“In cinema, my biggest inspiration would probably be the (Belgian filmmaker duo) Dardenne brothers. I find their films very moving and when I saw ‘Rosetta’ (the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes 1999), it was one of the first times I realized how cinema can touch people’s minds.”


No hard feelings: Paris fashion star Abloh reaches out to Kanye West

The relationship between West and Abloh has been tested after the later was named head of menswear at Louis Vuitton in March. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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No hard feelings: Paris fashion star Abloh reaches out to Kanye West

  • Abloh will show his own Off-White label in Paris Wednesday before making his debut bow with the world’s biggest luxury brand on Thursday
  • Abloh grew up in Illinois where his seamstress mother taught him her trade as he studied engineering and later architecture. He has made it clear his clothes will be much more street

PARIS: Virgil Abloh paid tribute to his friend and longtime collaborator Kanye West as the US designer took star billing as Paris men’s fashion week began Tuesday.
Relations between the pair have been tested since Abloh was named head of menswear at Louis Vuitton in March, with the rapper saying it was “hurtful” to lose his muse and erstwhile artistic director.
West has made no secret of his own ambitions to lead a major luxury brand as a designer, and revealed last month that he had also once been in talks with Louis Vuitton’s owner, French fashion magnate Bernard Arnault.
Abloh — the son of Ghanaian immigrants — will show his own Off-White label in Paris Wednesday before making his debut bow with the world’s biggest luxury brand on Thursday.
As he put the finishing touches to his collections he posted a photo of Kanye West to his 2.3 million Instagram followers with legend, “The architect of it all.”
West’s wife Kim Kardashian responded with emojis of a heart and two fires to signal her approval. The rapper — who has his own Yeezy line for Adidas — remained silent.
But he told US radio star Charlamagne tha God in a wide-ranging interview last month that there were no hard feelings.
“These things are hurtful when you are working with a talent like... Virgil and somebody comes through and says ‘Bam! I am going to take Virgil.’
“There is some validation in that someone that I came up with is now the head (of menswear) of Louis Vuitton,” West added.
Abloh, 38, is only the second black man to rise to the top of a big Paris fashion house, with French designer Olivier Rousteing responsible for both Balmain’s men and women’s lines.
As well as his nod to his former employer, Abloh dropped hints on social media that he was about to give the aristocratic Vuitton label a strong dose of black empowerment and streetwear style.
Vuitton’s previous designer, Briton Kim Jones — who makes his own debut for Dior Homme on Saturday — often referenced British colonial and safari chic in his clothes.
Abloh grew up in Illinois where his seamstress mother taught him her trade as he studied engineering and later architecture. He has made it clear his clothes will be much more street.
He posted films on Instagram of cotton plants and ceramic neck chains, in what could be seen as references to slavery, as well as a Louis Vuitton record box inspired by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, “where you can put your coat in while DJing, shielding it from smoky clubs and spilled drinks.”
Abloh had worked hand in glove with West for more than 15 years. They designed clothes together on Photoshop and were $500-a-month interns under Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi in Rome in 2009 even though the rapper already had a string of Grammy awards under his belt.
West said that he only found out about Abloh taking over at Vuitton as the appointment was announced in March. “He (Abloh) made the call two minutes before it hit the Internet... He had told me he was looking at Versace too... but he knew he was going to Louis Vuitton,” he added.
West admitted days later in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that the news had weighed on him. “It’s not bad or good,” he said.
Abloh has built up a celebrity following at Off-White with high-profile collaborations with Nike, Jimmy Choo and Moncler. Such has been the buzz that fashionistas jostled each other to get into his show in Paris last March.
Not everyone, however, is sold on streetwear’s inexorable rise. New York Times critic Guy Trebay said a “lot of what turns up on the runways lately looks less designed than crowdsourced.”
The young German and Swedish brands CMMN SWDN and Gmbh kicked fashion week off on Tuesday evening after a dance show by choreographer Mathilde Monnier inspired by shoemaker J.M. Weston.
French label Pigalle also tried to rethink the catwalk by presenting its new collection during an hour-long music and dance show at one of the French capital’s most prestigious concert halls.