Ten female Arab filmmakers who are telling the stories of Middle East’s women

From post-revolutionary settings to personal struggles, women have told stories from the region that would have otherwise remained unheard. (Supplied)
Updated 01 November 2019

Ten female Arab filmmakers who are telling the stories of Middle East’s women

  • Female directors in the Arab world have worked behind the camera for decades unheard
  • The Cairo International Film Festival recently signed the 5050x2020 gender parity charter

CAIRO: In a first for the region, the Cairo International Film Festival has signed the 5050x2020 gender parity charter, joining 60 other film festivals worldwide to ensure equality and improve transparency in the entertainment business.

Women in the Arab world have worked behind the camera long before the charter. From post-revolutionary settings to personal struggles, they have told stories from the region that would have otherwise remained unheard. Here are 10 of the most accomplished female Arab filmmakers.

1. Annemarie Jacir

Jacir has written, produced and directed award-winning films such as “A Post Oslo History” (2001). Her short film “Like Twenty Impossibles” (2003) was the first Arab cinematic work in this category to enter an official selection at the Cannes International Film Festival. The Palestinian director’s most recent film, the dramedy “Wajib” (2017), won her 18 international awards.

2. Nujoom Al-Ghanem 

The Emirati filmmaker, writer and poet had to overcome societal stigma, family disapproval, and the responsibilities of a wife and mother. She defied the odds to study TV production and filmmaking, later producing films such as “Amal” (2011) and “Sounds of the Sea” (2015).

3. Nadine Labaki

Labaki, who spent the first 17 years of her life in a war-torn area in Lebanon, made her debut with “Caramel” (2006). This female-centric comedy premiered at Cannes, and won the actress and director widespread recognition.  

4. Haifaa Al-Mansour

The movies of Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker explored women’s issues in the country as well as other taboo topics. Her three shorts “Who” (1997), “The Bitter Journey” (2000) and “The Only Way Out” (2001) won awards in the UAE and the Netherlands.

5. Hala Khalil

Beginning her career in the post-patriarchal era in Egypt, Khalil represented the new generation who made films exploring bold themes and featuring strong female characters. Works such as “The Best of Times” (2004) and “The Kite” (1997) won Khalil several awards and global acclaim.

6. Mai Masri

Living close to the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, Masri witnessed what would become known as the Sabra and Shatila massacre. A theme in her movies is life in Palestine and the Middle East, especially in films such as “Beirut Diaries: Truth, Lies and Videos” (2006), “3000” (2006) and “Layla” (2015).

7. Nayla Al-Khaja

Al-Khaja began her career with the comedy “Sweet Sixteen” in 1996, going on to produce award-winning films and documentaries. She has been lauded for presenting social issues in a realistic setting, especially in films such as “Arabana” (2007) and “Animal” (2017).

8. Kaouther ben Hania

The Tunisian-born director shot to fame with her bold themes and characters in movies such as “Le Challat de Tunis” (2013) and “Beauty and the Dogs” (2017), which had a post-Arab Spring background with strong women fighting for justice.

9. Sofia Djama

Starting out in advertising and short story-writing, Djama turned to directing when one of her short stories, “Mollement un Samedi Matin” (2012), was made into a film. In this picture, the Algerian director explores the parallel existence of social morality and legal actions.

10. Shahad Ameen

This Saudi writer and director caused ripples with her debut film “Scales” (2019), the story of a young girl on a path of self-discovery in a dystopian setting. Ameen explores the personal journey of a woman who ends up being in the shadows in a male-dominated society.

 

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 


Lebanese publisher launches book project of Arab art created during lockdown

Updated 03 June 2020

Lebanese publisher launches book project of Arab art created during lockdown

  • Dongola Books launches The Mailbox Project encouraging Middle Eastern artists around the world to create art during lockdown

DUBAI: While most artists will say that creating art in isolation is their natural state, the months of lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have for many conjured up feelings of restlessness and unease.

“An artist’s mission in the first place is to tell history — their side of history and what they are living every day,” artist and political cartoonist Khalid Albaih, who is based in the Danish capital Copenhagen, told Arab News.

But how does an artist document history while confined to their home?

As the world begins to reopen after months of closure, artwork created by more than 50 Middle Eastern artists will serve as a testament to the power of creativity, as part of the “Cities Under Quarantine: The Mailbox Project.”

“Cities Under Quarantine: The Mailbox Project” was launched by Beirut-based artist and founder of Dongola Books Abed Al-Kadiri. (Supplied)

The initiative was launched by Beirut-based artist and founder of Dongola Books Abed Al-Kadiri.

The scope of the project was not only to create works of art during varying states of lockdown, but to channel challenging feelings of anxiety into creativity.

The project involved the creation of more than 50 hand-made and hand-stitched books, produced in-house at Dongola and designed with each individual artist in mind by Reza Abedini.

Each book had the name of the artist it was sent to on its front cover and was distributed accordingly to Middle Eastern artists around the world working in isolation.

Some of the Middle East’s most prominent emerging and established artists globally participated in the initiative. (Supplied)

Some of the Middle East’s most prominent emerging and established artists globally participated in the initiative. They included Beirut-based artists Serwan Baran, Reza Abedini, Abed Al-Kadiri, Dalia Baassiri, Gilbert Hage, Hiba Kalache, Majd Abdel Hamid, Shawki Youssef, and Mona Saudi.

Albaih said: “I took part in this project because I thought it was a great project through which to document the times we are living. I am trying to document how I feel and how the surroundings look to me at a time when it is hard to produce and when there is little to nowhere that is active right now. Artists produce during good times and times of hardship.”

Portrait of Abed Al-Kadiri. (Supplied)

Dongola continues to believe in the power of artists’ books to harness change and as a unique form of expression that captures and responds to the spirit of the times.

“I began to question what our collective spaces could offer us as we stay apart together,” said Al-Kadiri, an artist known for his large-scale abstract paintings covering social issues around the Middle East.

“What could I, not just as an artist, but as a believer in the power of artistic connection, encourage through my peers? Art has always been exceptionally responsive to the world around us. Through it, we capture the personal, social, political, and environmental issues that we struggle to make sense of.

The project involved the creation of more than 50 hand-made and hand-stitched books. (Supplied)

“These books are an invitation to join me in thinking along the same lines, through a practice I have dedicated myself to for the past few years. I believe in the relevance of the artist’s book today, now more than ever,” he added.

Al-Kadiri pointed out that the initiative was also on a mission to put art outside of gallery walls. He was particularly inspired by American artist John Baldessari’s book “Ingres and Other Parables.” In it, Baldessari writes that “it’s difficult to put a painting in the mailbox.”

However, Baldessari, who died in January this year, had a desire to create hand-held artwork to be viewed away from galleries — something Al-Kadiri also aims to promote in the age of COVID-19.

Dongola continues to believe in the power of artists’ books to harness change and as a unique form of expression that captures and responds to the spirit of the times. (Supplied)

Much of the power of The Mailbox Project lies in the diversity of the artists taking part, working in different countries throughout the world and in different artistic mediums. They were given no artistic parameters. They were only asked to create.

“This will be a great historic witness to the times we are living,” added Albaih.

Al-Kadiri hopes to culminate the project in the future with a compilation of completed works from the artists’ books to then be published as a limited-edition book by Dongola. “We also hope to stage an exhibition of the works in the future.”