Over a hundred films were screened during the 43rd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). Yet, Becoming from Saudi Arabia was shown in the Horizons of Arab Cinema category, which is out of the competition.
Becoming consists of five short films directed by five female directors — Sara Mesfer, Fatima Al-Banawi, Jawaher Al-Amri, Hind Al-Fahhad, Noor Al-Ameer. It featured in the Red Sea International Film Festival, which is an annual event launched in 2019 in Jeddah.
“The film was conceived from the beginning to support women,” said Suzan Abu al-Khair, representative of the Red Sea International Film Festival, during a discussion after the movie screening at the Cairo Opera House.
“Therefore, the topics that were selected are the ones that concern Saudi women and the stage of Becoming,” she said.
One film shows the plight of a divorced woman in Saudi society. Another film tells the story of a woman who seeks the services of a female shaman to have a child. She discovers that the shaman is mentally ill because she lost her daughter long before, but she still says her daughter is living with her.
Captured on celluloid is the situation of a mother and a young child stuck in a car because they cannot leave the car park because someone has left his car in the wrong place.
“There is diversity in the stories and a variety of topics, and we wanted to screen it during the Egyptian festival because Egyptian cinema is the gateway to Arab cinema. We are proud to be in Egypt and to take part in the Cairo Film Festival,” Abu al-Khair said.
Director Jawaher Al-Amri said Saudi women are brought up on stories, and they take every opportunity for storytelling.
Director Hind Al-Fahhad said cinema should be concerned with human issues, regardless of whether the filmmaker is a man or a woman.
“Cinema should not only be concerned with women’s issues but with everything related to humans,” she added.
One of the challenges facing Saudi filmmakers is finding actresses.
“Actresses aged between 35 and 50 are hard to come by and they need a lot of training,” director Sara Mesfer said.
Director Fatima Al-Banawi explained that there are many films that discuss women’s issues, and they can be presented by a man or a woman, but the difference is that “women add feminist detail and make the characters look like every woman”.
There is a large number of women directors in Saudi cinema nowadays as a result of the opening up of the country.
“Women have many stories hidden that they could not tell because of the closed nature of our society, plus the fact that the first university offering courses in cinema and filmmaking film in Saudi Arabia is for women only, which gives them a greater opportunity to share their views.”