Haifaa Al-Mansour, 43, is a Saudi film director. She is one of the country’s best-known and most controversial directors, and the first female Saudi filmmaker to be internationally recognized for her work.
Born in Riyadh in 1974, she is one of 12 children of the late Saudi poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, who introduced her to films at a young age.
With the encouragement of her father, she left for Egypt to study comparative literature at the American University in Cairo and later completed a master’s degree in directing and film studies from the University of Sydney, Australia.
Al-Mansour began her filmmaking career with three short films, one of which, “The Only Way Out,” won awards in both the UAE and the Netherlands. She followed these with the documentary “Women Without Shadows,” which focused on the hidden lives of women in Arab countries. It was shown at 17 different international festivals, and received the Golden Dagger Award for Best Documentary at the Muscat Film Festival.
She wrote and directed her first feature film, the Saudi Arabian drama film “Wadjda,” the story of an 11-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs of Riyadh who dreams of owning and riding a green bicycle.
The film was backed by Rotana, the film production company of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, and made its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. “Wadjda” was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director.
It won numerous awards at film festivals around the world. The film was also selected as the Saudi entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards (the first Saudi film entry in Academy history). “Wadjda” earned a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2014 BAFTA Awards, and also won the Arab Award for Best Film Feature at the 2012 Dubai International Film Festival.