Culture

Focus on Arab Women Filmmakers

May 21, 2015

This week at the Cannes International Film Festival an announcement was made to unveil a new scholarship program aimed at helping more Arab women becomes filmmakers.

AP reported: “The Hani Farsi Graduate Scholarship Fund will pay for three aspiring filmmakers to study directing at the University of California at Los Angeles’ School of Theater, Film and Television.

“The first recipients are scheduled to begin master’s degree studies in September through the program, a partnership between UCLA and the Mohamed S. Farsi Foundation.

“Film producer Hani Farsi, who set up the charitable foundation named for his Saudi philanthropist father, said Tuesday that the program was the ‘first step in a call to action, which we hope will lead to a positive change for women in the film industry and in my part of the world’.”

The same article also pointed out that femme directors are rare in the global industry as well, with only two of the 19 feature films competing for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year made by women.

According to the entertainment trade paper Variety, “while a number of Arab female directors have come to the fore in recent years – such as Saudi Arabia’s Haifa Al-Mansour (“Wadjda”), who is on the Un Certain Regard jury in Cannes, and Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki (“Where Do We Go Now”) – Arab women certainly face more barriers to becoming filmmakers than their male counterparts in the region”.

Nadine Labaki, who first shot to international fame with her debut film “Caramel” (2007), is also serving on the juryfor Un Certain Regard this year. The Independent wrote in part about “Caramel”: “A touching comedy set in a Beirut hairdressing salon, it revolved around the lives of five women, aged between 20 and 60…Labaki took the lead role and won rave reviews for her work on both sides of the camera.” The newspaper continued: “Now she’s back, starring in her follow-up, ‘Where Do We Go Now?’, which takes the soap-opera feel of ‘Caramel’ and turns it into Greek tragedy, including the odd choral song”.

Last month fans were set abuzz when Hollywood star Salma Hayek, on a press junket to Beirut, “hinted in passing that she may have a project in the works” with Labaki, according to The Daily Star.

The UK’s BFI celebrated Arab women filmmakers with a special program at the 2013 Birds Eye View Film Festival. At that time creative director Kate Gerova stated: “We decided to have this focus because of all the films we’ve seen emerging from the Arab world over the past couple of years. What we noticed was that a lot of the films winning the top prizes in the festivals in the region were by women. And also, in this year’s Berlinale, you had ‘Coming Forth by Day’, by Hala Lotfy, you had ‘When I Saw You’, by Annemarie Jacir… It just seemed like a kind of explosion of female talent, and we wanted to celebrate that.”