Haifaa al-Mansour • Director of The Perfect Candidate
“It will take time to see actual change on the streets of Saudi Arabia”
by Kaleem Aftab
- VENICE 2019: Saudi filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour tells Cineuropa about her new work playing in competition at Venice, The Perfect Candidate
It was at the Venice Film Festival that Haifaa al-Mansour first came to international prominence with Wadjda [+see also:
film profile], the first movie made entirely in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Cinema has moved on since 2012, and so have women’s rights. For her new film, The Perfect Candidate [+see also:
interview: Haifaa al-Mansour
film profile], screening in competition on the Lido, al-Mansour tackles gender discrimination and laws that, until recently, prevented women from travelling without the permission of their guardian.
Cineuropa: How important was it for you to make a film in Saudi Arabia about the country itself and not have to make it clandestinely, hiding your equipment in a van?
Haifaa al-Mansour: It was a lot of fun to be part of the gang, and not always being confined to a van and communicating with walkie-talkies. It’s nice not to have to do everything on the streets. I was able to have more direct contact with the actors, and that was enjoyable, plus it made my life easier. More than just not being in the van, accessibility to places was a lot better this time than it was with Wadjda; we were able to film in small, remote villages, where people are very conservative, and they don’t like foreigners. They were happy. They said, “Thanks for putting us on the map.” That’s amazing because that’s how to build culture. But we still don’t have a film industry; we brought heads of departments over from Germany.
How did you feel when the guardianship laws changed, and you knew you were in the process of making a film that had those regulations as a plot point?
I think it is amazing because it is a society in transition and which is moving forward, especially when it comes to bringing social liberties to women. I feel like women are not trained to be independent, so they are not embracing the changes as much as they should, however. When you go on the streets of Saudi Arabia, you don’t see a lot of women driving. It’s like they think it’s a hassle to drive.
Riyadh is more independent, and you can go where you want, but there are also some conservative families – a lot of girls will buy a new car and be happy about it, and then their traditional families will go and burn the vehicle because they don’t want the woman to drive. There are a lot of new social liberties, but how to make them spread deeper and broader is the real question, because it’s not easy. It will take time to see actual change on the streets.
You received money from a Saudi fund – the first film to do so. How did that work?
Yes, there is a Saudi fund now, and they have financed a lot of short films and documentaries. My movie is one of the first features, and I think that they are funding another feature now. It’s like any public fund that is common in Europe: you go, and then you apply. I think it’s essential.
It’s the little sister who is most worried about change in the movie; why is that character the one representing conservatism?
I think she is representing her age. It would be really awkward if she were happy. Haven’t you been around teenagers? They are not happy people.
Does it seem that when you make Saudi films, the reception has been more welcoming?
I think it’s the competition. When you make an American or a British film, you really have to stand out. That’s the truth. Saudi Arabia is an exotic place; there are not a lot of movies coming from there, so it is a celebration. Of course, I have a more intimate knowledge of the culture. I enjoyed making Mary Shelley [+see also:
film profile] when I did it. I really identified with the character, and I think if I were a male director – a white, male director, just to be more specific – I would have landed a bigger deal. I would have landed a studio for that film, and the reception would have been way more significant.
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