Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour reveals the difficulties she faced while making Wadjda, the first feature to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

In an exclusive interview with Screen, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour has described the struggles she faced while making Wadjda, the first ever feature to be shot in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country where cinemagoing is frowned on and women’s rights are severely curbed.

“We don’t have movie theatres. It is not allowed in Saudi,” the director commented. “We don’t have a film industry but it is very important to bring the concept of film to this country. Film makes people more tolerant and gives them pride.”

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Wadjda was made with official permission - and with support from Saudi partner Rotana Studio. However, as the director reveals, she needed to keep a low profile during production.

“I think it’s very difficult for a woman to do anything in Saudi. It’s a very segregated society. As a woman, I am not supposed to work in public.”

The director wasn’t able to be on the streets with her actors. Instead, she would direct while sitting in a van.

The film (being pre-sold in Cannes by the Match Factory) is the story of an eleven-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The title character Wadjda must use all of her courage and wits as she innocently challenges the complex and restrictive framework of her traditional society in a desperat attempt to attain her forbidden dream: a green bicycle.

Wadjda is produced by Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul of Berlin-based Razor Film Produktions, GmbH (the outfit behind Paradise Now and Waltz With Bashir.) Rena Ronson of the UTA Independent Film Group helped arrange financing for the project together with Razor.

“I feel Saudi is opening up and it is a great opportunity now for people to bring new concepts to the society,” the filmmaker commented. “Saudi is going through a very important shift in its history.”

Wadjda is currently in post production. The Match Factory is handling world sales with UTA Independent Film Group representing North American rights. Koch Media will be releasing the film in Germany in Spring 2013. The coproducer is Amr Alkhatani of Saudi Highlook Group and the film received support from NDR (Redaktion Christian Granderath), BR and Saudi Channel ROTANA. Funded by support from FFA, MBB, MDM and ILB. The project was also backed by the Hubert Bals Fund, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and the Sundance Institute.