Educated and Well Dressed
Arab Woman Filmmakers
Scene from Raja Amari’s film debut ‚Al-Sitar al-Ahmar’ (‚Red Satin’, 2002). Copyright: Alamode Film/Pyramide International/ADR
Beirut. A young man is standing on a balcony wearing nothing but his underpants. The 70's disco hit 'Daddy Cool' by Boney M is booming out of his apartment. The man leans over the balcony railing and watches two girls on the other side of the street. And they watch him. 'What's he doing now?' one of them asks. 'He's touching himself,' giggles the other.
With saucy scenes like this one, Maarek Hob [In the Battlefields], the feature film debut of the young Lebanese filmmaker Danielle Arbid made it to a premiere at Cannes last year. However, Arbid's fellow countrywoman Jocelyne Saab was less lucky with her new film. Although she won a prize for the script in Paris two years ago, no one wanted to produce the movie. For Saab, one of the most experienced of Arab women filmmakers, this rejection was a disappointment not only in artistic terms: she was left with no option but to make the film with her own money. She took the risk. In August this year, Dunia premiered at the World Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.
If the first women directors were still self-taught, the new generation of filmmakers has blossomed into the kind of modern women who now characterise the profile of Arab women directors: women with a solid film school education or an equivalent academic background. For these women, making films is no longer simply a vocation; it is a profession in the sense of being their career and their livelihood. Unlike the pioneers of the silent movie, they are not afraid to fight for their position as professionals in the film industry.
In the 1970s the Egyptian documentary filmmaker Ateyyat El Abnoudy was the first of this new generation who was able to build up her own production base with her company Abnoud Film. As early as 1971 she created a style of her own which she dubbed 'poetic realism'. She depicts social reality with heavy emphasis on aesthetic and atmosphere. Herself a child of the working class, she documented the faces and stories of farmers and day workers. For this she came to be revered as 'the filmmaker of the common people'.
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