Usama Hussain, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2007-07-22 03:00

JEDDAH, 22 July 2007 — Saudi director Haifa Al-Mansour can now add a Saudi award to her list of film prizes. Rounding up the 2nd Jeddah Film Festival Friday night, Haifa’s award-winning documentary “Women Without Shadows” won a standing ovation from the crowd and heaps of praise from the judges.

Wrapping up the four-day event at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in which over 48 short pieces of fiction, documentaries and animated works were shown, judges Hassan Al-Naimi, Khaled Rabie Al-Saeed and Mohammed Qudus were unsparingly blunt in their criticism. The animated shorts were hit the hardest with none judged up to par to claim a prize. The drama category also garnered plenty of disapproval as the judges, to the delight of the audience, said they lacked plots, good dialogue and in many cases made no sense whatsoever. Films shown in this category also went unrewarded.

The Recognition award, which went to distinguished filmmakers, was shared by Abdullah Al-Ayaaf for “Frame” and Abdul Aziz Al-Nujaim for “Rebel.”

But it was Haifa’s documentary, which also won awards at the Muscat Film Festival in Oman and the Arab film festival in Rotterdam, that stole the limelight. The 44-minute documentary showed Haifa interviewing Saudi women in her hometown of Al-Hassa about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and whether the face veil is obligatory in Islam or is just a social issue.

The movie starts with Haifa visiting a souq or open market in which several fully veiled stall owners object to being filmed and attempt to hide their eyes. However, one of them is delighted to see the film crew and asks how she should pose. In subsequent scenes she interviews Saudi women of different ages who describe social changes that have taken place in the Kingdom over the past 30 years and how they are often forced to resort to unorthodox methods to get around restrictions.

One such story was of a mother who tells how she paid a taxi driver SR50 ($13) to pose as her husband when airport authorities refused to let her board a plane as she did not have permission from her male guardian. Another girl — no older than 12 — tells how she often dresses up as a boy so she can go outside without a male guardian.

One of the highlights of the movie is an interview with Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni where he famously states that only the hijab (covering of hair) is obligatory in Islam and not the niqab (covering of face). Al-Qarni’s statement put him in direct conflict with many scholars in the Kingdom who say that it is necessary for women to cover their faces and he later retracted his statement.

The movie ends with Haifa having a debate with a woman who declined to appear on camera. The woman claims that it is mentioned in the Qur’an that women should cover their faces. Haifa disagrees. The conservative woman is asked about Muslim women in other countries who do not cover their hair. “Are they not Muslims?” asks Haifa.

The documentary ends after the woman whispers to Haifa: “Enough!”

A representative from the Ministry of Culture and Information brought the festival to an end with his speech calling for more support for Saudi filmmakers.

“All of the directors today have to finance their own projects so even though the dialogues and plots were a little disappointing, we have to remember that we are witnessing the birth of the Saudi film industry and only with time and our support will they improve,” he said.

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