Haifaa Al Mansour, director

Women's Impact Report 2012: Creatives

The first female director to come out of cloistered Saudi Arabia, Al Mansour bowed her debut feature, “Wadjda” at this year’s Venice Film Festival to widespread critical acclaim. Film was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for distribution.

Saudi Arabian secrets: “Saudi Arabia is very closed, so a lot of people think it’s impossible to make a film there. But actually there are lots of dramas. There’s lots of TV and lots of drama that’s happening in Saudi, and … there’s some kind of hidden infrastructure for film, that film can be built on, and that is what we did. We found it very effective to capitalize on that, rather than to reinvent the wheel. There are systems in place for filming, for shooting, for obtaining permissions and it’s very much established. It is still a very difficult country so a lot of people move away because it’s easier.”

Words of wisdom: “To be as honest as possible, and to bring the stories that are real. Try not to think for the mainstream as much as to think for yourself and have an opinion. This is what I tell people here, because we are very tribal and we think collectively, and it’s very important to think as an individual and have an opinion.”

Smartphone habits: “When I go to vacation, I take my phone. It’s hard for me to disconnect. But when I’m home it’s important for me, when I’m with my kids, to not be distracted. Because it’s hard sometimes when you’re thinking about something and they’re talking to you, and you want to keep the conversation going. I try as much as possible when I’m with my kids to be focused, to be with them.”

Work week: “I work a lot. Because I don’t have an office, so I don’t have set hours, but I work nonstop. You answer emails, you talk to people, you try to get in touch. I don’t know how many hours, but I work really nonstop.”

Life-work balance: “This is very difficult. When you have kids, especially when you have little kids and you go away, and they miss you, and it affects them when they don’t see their mother. For me, how I balance it is I they come visit me when I’m shooting, I take the weekend or days off, and then when I’m with them I have to be off completely for them. And that is really important that they know that if I have to take some to go to work, that when I’m back and with them that they are the priority.”

Charitable passions “The Global Fund for Women. My husband and I are big fans of them. The Global Fund gives money to send girls to finish their education in different parts of the world. I feel that education is very powerful … in certain countries they invest in the males and they neglect education for the females, and I feel that deprives them from so many opportunities. When you educate a person you give them a whole new life.”

Twitter: @HaifaaMansour

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