Haifaa Al-Mansour: Saudi Arabia’s first female direction on Wadjda and growing up where cinemas are forbidden
What’s the film about?
An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school’s Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest.
“I wanted to depict a character who will embrace life and fight for it. I think such messages are very important in the Middle East. A lot of people think if they change the regime, their life will be all ok. It doesn’t happen and there’s a lot of disappointment, because change needs a lot of dedication and a lot of work.”
“It was very hard for me not to be with my actors, some of them [acting] for the first time. I had to see [what they were doing] through a monitor. But it was really important for me to make the film in Saudi. So if there was an obstacle, then we tried to overcome.”
There are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia.
I don’t want to seem like we were completely isolated from the outside world, but we were not a cosmopolitan family either. Even though my parents had travelled a lot, while I was growing up, we only took a few small trips. All of my childhood took place around our small town. The concept of the big world ended in the city that was a few hours away. The world beyond that seemed to be very distant and out of my reach. I always read a lot and saw films and wanted to take part, in some way, in a world that was bigger. Saudi Arabia is a country without movie theaters and cinema isn’t allowed. But my father always found a way to make cinema accessible and we had evenings where we would watch films together.
What’s it like for girls in Saudi?
It really wasn’t my story. I come from a small town. I’m one of 12, my parents had 12 kids. But they were very liberal and I never had the problem of not being able to ride a bicycle, per se, or not being able to do the things that I wanted. But a lot of girls I went to school with didn’t have choices or the chance to do certain things.