Arab women lead ‘new generation’ in documentary filmmaking


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El-Gouna (Egypt) (AFP) – Alongside the celebrities who parade on the red carpet of film festivals in Egypt, a traditional powerhouse of regional cinema, young Arab women directors are making their mark with documentaries addressing subjects ranging from feminicide to revolution.

Taking a break from networking at the El-Gouna Red Sea Film Festival in October, Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour, 30, spoke about her feature documentary “Women of my life.”

“The main theme is the life and death of young women and girls in Iraq. It explores how Iraqi society treats femicide as if it were normal,” she told AFP.

Ghandour said that “in the last few years a new generation has emerged in the 90s and 2000s with new leadership,” especially after the October 2019 protests calling for the overthrow of the ruling class in Iraq.

“We want to free ourselves from the stereotypes that world cinema locks us in,” she said.

“It’s like there are trends and they (the international donors) want us to fit into these funding guidelines,” Ghandour said.

Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour Khaled DESOUKI AFP

“What if I wanna make a horror movie? I wanna do whatever I want as long as it’s high quality.”

“Women of my life”, in which she plays one of the main characters, follows the gruesome death of a young woman suspected of having been executed by male relatives.

“As Iraqis in general our lives are unstable but the targeted killing of women in particular (…) cannot be trivialized,” she said.

Rich table

For Rafia Oraidi, a freelance Palestinian producer, the fractured landscape of life under Israeli occupation offers a rich picture of stories.

Working with US-Palestinian filmmaker Hind Shoufani on “They Planted Strange Trees,” the international team put the finishing touches to the post-production.

Independent Palestinian film producer Rafia Oraidi
Independent Palestinian film producer Rafia Oraidi Khaled DESOUKI AFP

“It is a meditative journey taking place in Galilee which traces the daily life of the inhabitants of the village where the director is from,” said Oraidi.

Oraidi mentions independent Palestinian directors such as Hany Abu-Assad and Elia Suleiman whose films have won Oscar nominations and awards at Cannes.

“Without the personal attention of the filmmakers, the patience and perseverance … despite the conditions we live in, we wouldn’t have a single film on screen,” she said.

“We want to show that there are a lot of other stories in Palestine besides war, destruction and occupation,” Oraidi said.

She said the biggest challenge for independent Arab filmmakers was the lack of facilities such as bespoke studios.

It “inflates the budget and we are forced to join forces with other co-producers to get funding,” she said.

Is doing better than Hollywood

Tunisian screenwriter and director Fatma Riahi is at the start of a feature film, “My Father Killed Bourguiba”, which attempts to “tell the story of Tunisia over the past 30 years through a biographical and personal story”.

Centered on his father, the documentary follows his role in a plan to overthrow Habib Bourguiba’s regime in a 1987 military coup and its current repercussions after the 2011 revolution that overthrew his successor Zine El Abidine. Ben Ali.

Tunisian screenwriter and director Fatma Riahi
Tunisian screenwriter and director Fatma Riahi Khaled DESOUKI AFP

“I hope the film … will give an alternative reading … of Tunisian history … from coups and revolutions to what we are currently experiencing under (President) Kais Saied,” said the director of around thirty.

Saied himself sacked the government and seized sweeping powers on July 25, citing an “imminent threat” to the country.

“For women in Arab cinema, the number of female directors, for example, is always lower than that of men. It is not only a regional phenomenon but also a global one,” Riahi told AFP.

But Arab cinema seems to be doing better than Hollywood, where of the 250 biggest films released last year, only 18% were directed by women.

A 2019 study from Northwestern University in Doha, for example, found that about 50% of all filmmakers in the Arab world were women.


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