CHICAGO: Saudi and Arab women filmmakers are outpacing their counterparts in the US and Europe, leading voices in the industry and media said Wednesday.
Documentary filmmaker Danya Alhamrani, co-founder of EggDancer Productions based in Jeddah, said that women are changing long-held stereotypes.
This view was supported by Arab News Deputy Sections Head and Regional Correspondent Rawan Radwan, whose research shows that more women directors from the region are involved in the industry compared to their peers in the US and Europe.
During an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show Wednesday, Alhamrani said that one problem with movies made in Hollywood or by Western male filmmakers is that the stories of Arab women have always been told by others.
“I think for so long we have had people tell our stories for us. And they are being told from the perspective of somebody who has not walked in our shoes and so therefore can’t tell our stories authentically. And so this is something we are really striving to do, to tell our own stories and in our own voice,” said Alhamrani who in 2006 became with her business partner, Dania Nassief, the first women in Saudi Arabia to own and manage a film production company.
Alhamrani said the biggest challenge is getting the industry to support their projects. Their first long format documentary is “Rise: The Journey of Women in Saudi Arabia,” which conveys the evolution of female empowerment in the Kingdom.
“It is about the history of women in Saudi Arabia starting in the 1950s when education for women was first started and schools were first opened and how that changed their trajectory. And so our film is full of female pioneers and different industries, from sports to art to media, and business, and even in law and politics,” Alhamrani said.
“So I think the stereotype that is very common about Saudi women is that we are oppressed. But that is why it was so important for us to make this film. Why? Because it actually shows the different side in the history of Saudi women who have been working in all these industries and pushing boundaries for a very long time.”
Alhamrani said she and company co-owner Nassief prefer documentaries because it allows them to engage directly with people and experience their real lives rather than pursuing fiction which imagines a life and often feeds stereotypes.
“We like to do stories with a social issues slant. Our goal is to bring the stories, our local stories here in Saudi Arabia, to tell stories that are biased and for us but also to bring our stories to the world,” explained Alhamrani, who led the late celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain on a tour of Saudi Arabia in 2008 for his CNN program “Parts Unknown.”
EggDancer Productions is online at EggDancer.com.
Alhamrani is one of several women filmmakers who were part of a special feature by Arab News’ Radwan which explored this growth in the Kingdom and across the region.
“There are more women behind the cameras than one would expect,” Radwan noted. She said data shows that “26 percent of directors are female in the Arab world, but only 8 percent are female directors in the US.”
Arab women filmmakers are also now submitting more independent productions at Cannes than their European peers.
“All of these women are out there and they have been in the scene for more than 10, 15 years now. Just because it is not mentioned in the news, just because you don’t look at us or have a microscope on us, doesn’t mean we are not out there,” Radwan said.
“And yes, there are challenges as it is with every female filmmaker in the world. It is not a problem that is just isolated here in the region. It is a global problem. Look at the numbers. We just said 8 percent in the US and 26 percent here in the Arab World. That is a lot. That is a huge comparison.”
Radwan added that there was “a growing appetite” to make films beyond the typical television game shows or interview programs, with Saudi women getting support from the Film Commission established in the Kingdom several years ago.
“They invited men and women filmmakers to participate rather than going outside of the country,” she said.
Danya Alhamrani and Rawan Radwan appeared on The Ray Hanania Radio Show on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and Washington D.C. The radio program is rebroadcast in Chicago on Thursdays.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.