Haifaa Al Mansour’s drama Wadjda, about a young girl determined to win money to buy a bicycle she’s forbidden to ride, has been selected as Saudi Arabia’s official submission for the Oscar’s foreign-language category. It marks the first time the country has submitted a film for Academy Award consideration.
“We are very proud of the film as an authentic representation of our country and culture and are very pleased to see the themes and story of the film resonate with audiences well beyond our borders,” Sultan Al Bazie, head of Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts and chairman of the nominating committee, said in a statement on Friday.
The film is directed by Haifah al Mansour, the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia who is regarded as one of the most significant cinematic figures in the Kingdom. She finished her bachelor’s degree in Literature at the American University in Cairo and completed a Master’s degree in Directing and Film Studies from the University of Sydney.
In a comment on the website of Sony Picture Classics, the film’s distributors, Al Mansour said:
“I’m so proud to have shot the first full-length feature ever filmed entirely inside the Kingdom. I come from a small town in Saudi Arabia where there are many girls like Wadjda who have big dreams, strong characters and so much potential. These girls can, and will, reshape and redefine our nation. It was important for me to work with an all-Saudi cast, to tell this story with authentic, local voices. Filming was an amazing cross-cultural collaboration that brought two immensely talented crews, from Germany and Saudi Arabia, into the heart of Riyadh. I hope the film offers a unique insight into my own country and speaks of universal themes of hope and perseverance that people of all cultures can relate to. “
Wadjda, which opens in Los Angeles this weekend, is believed to be the first film shot entirely in the kingdom. The film won the Best Arab Feature prize and a Best Actress for its protagonist, Waad, at the Dubai International Film Festival last year. The movie also is the first narrative feature from Mansour, a 39-year-old mother who grew up in a small Saudi town and shot the film covertly on the streets of the capital, Riyadh.
The story line
In the movie WADJDA is a 10-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Although she lives in a conservative world, Wadjda is fun loving, entrepreneurial and always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with. After a fight with her friend Abdullah, a neighborhood boy she shouldn’t be playing with, Wadjda sees a beautiful green bicycle for sale. She wants the bicycle desperately so that she can beat Abdullah in a race. But Wadjda’s mother won’t allow it, fearing repercussions from a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. So Wadjda decides to try and raise the money herself.
At first, Wadjda’s mother is too preoccupied with convincing her husband not to take a second wife to realize what’s going on. And soon enough Wadjda’s plans are thwarted when she is caught running various schemes at school. Just as she is losing hope of raising enough money, she hears of a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition at her school. She devotes herself to the memorization and recitation of Koranic verses, and her teachers begin to see Wadjda as a model pious girl. The competition isn‘t going to be easy, especially for a troublemaker like Wadjda, but she refuses to give in. She is determined to continue fighting for her dreams.
You can watch the trailer here
In the movie Wadjda is played by Waad Mohammed. Born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, twelve-year-old Waad Mohammed landed the role of Wadjda as one of the last girls to audition for the part. As the first film ever shot in the Kingdom, finding the right actress to play Wadjda proved especially challenging, with most families firmly against the idea of allowing their daughters to appear on camera. Through word of mouth and carefully planned auditions, Waad was chosen after over 50 girls read for the leading role. Having previously acted in local and regional theater productions, Waad came already sporting Wadjda‘s signature Chuck Taylor sneakers and defiant, rebellious attitude. Wadja is also her first feature film.
Source: OxGAPS.org with Sony Classic Pictures
Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures.