Femme helmers come of age

Across Mideast, women prove bankable

Women directors across the Mideast are breaking ground and making hits. From Lebanon, traditionally the most liberal of Arab countries, to Saudi Arabia, traditionally the most conservative, a generation of femme helmers is proving as bold and bankable as their male counterparts.

 

DJAMILA SAHRAOUI, Algeria

Helmer upset her more-favored rivals to scoop the Dubai Intl. Film Fest’s inaugural Muhr Award for best Arab feature with “Barakat!” Pic tells of the unlikely friendship between two women in civil war-torn Algeria in the 1990s. Sahraoui’s award-winning movie turned heads with its damning indictment of male folly and female solidarity. “It is a woman’s story that plays in a country wracked by violence,” the helmer says.

INES EL-DEGHEIDY, Egypt

Initially famous for her daring portrayals of female sexuality in such pics as 2001’s “Mothakerat morahkah,” which told the story of a teenage girl’s libidinous curiosity, El-Degheidy recently scored a box office hit with “Shall We Dance,” a remake of the Japanese hit. This time, however, the roles are reversed, with a middle-aged lawyer, played by Egyptian icon Yousra, romanced by her handsome, and younger, dance instructor.

HAIFA MANSOUR, Saudi Arabia

How do you make films in a country that has no cinemas and doesn’t even allow women to drive? That didn’t stop Mansour, right, from becoming Saudi Arabia’s first helmer, male or female, with 2003’s short “No Other Way.” Since then, she’s co-written and produced “How Are Things?,” the kingdom’s first feature, and is prepping her own feature directing debut. “I make films only because I enjoy making them, but if I can bring change along with me, then that would be great,” Mansour says.

DANIELLE ARBID, Lebanon

The Lebanese helmer first turned heads with her breathless depiction of the Lebanese civil war in 2004’s “In the Battlefields.” Tale of friendship and rivalries of a young Christian Lebanese girl and her Palestinian maid featured sex, violence and a claustrophobically etched portrait of a family teetering on the edge. Arbid is currently shooting “A Lost Man,” starring Alexander Siddig (“Syriana”), for France’s MK2 Prods. Shoot will travel from Lebanon to Jordan and Paris, and pic is tentatively slated for a November release.

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