JEDDAH: “It was a huge honor for the film to come here in particular, because this is the heartland of Islamic tradition,” Egyptian-American filmmaker and journalist Dina Amer said of having her film “You Resemble Me” screen during the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, where it won the Audience Award.
“My film, which I have made as a practicing Muslim woman, is to show that Islam is a beautiful religion and that these actions that have been done in the name of Islam have nothing to do with our beautiful faith. And so I felt like this was the perfect place for the film to be embraced.”
The Arab premiere of the film at the festival followed its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and screenings at several other international festivals, including in Brazil, Germany and Spain, where it picked up four awards.
The film, directed and co-written by Amer, is inspired by the true story of Hasna Ait Boulahcen, a young woman who, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, was named as Europe’s “first female suicide bomber.”
Several actors portray Boulahcen during the course of this experimental film, including Amer herself, reflecting the character’s sense of fractured identity as she searches for something she can do to make her feel that she belongs. Renowned American filmmakers Spike Lee and Spike Jonze are credited as executive producers on the film.
Speaking about winning the Audience Award, Amer told Arab News: “I felt so proud to be on stage and to say those words. It is time for us, as Muslims, to reclaim the narrative on our faith. The West doesn’t get to say what Islam is, we get to say what Islam is, and Islam is a beautiful religion
“To see the film celebrated here, in the womb of Islam, was like a dream come true.”
She added that she hopes her film will help to change attitudes and make people think about the ways in which the world tackles extremism and terrorism.
“This film is intended to offer solutions that are more human-based, other than policing or militarization, because that’s how France, or the rest of the world in the West, has dealt with it,” Amer said.
“But we need to look at it from a human perspective and see that at the core, these are people that need psychological support and help.”
Amer said that she hopes that the inaugural RSIFF, which concluded on Wednesday, will serve as a springboard for Saudi talent.
“The whole world should be celebrating this festival,” she said. “It is an artistic opening in Saudi Arabia and I am happy that Saudi voices and Saudi talent can be elevated and able to have a spotlight on them and to create and produce their work on a global level.
“This is something that everyone should be celebrating. I feel like I’m witnessing something historic, and I feel like this is just the beginning.”