Saudi pic unspools in Venice's Horizons sidebar

Pretty Pictures in France has picked up Haifaa Al Mansour’s Horizons competition title “Wadjda.”

Repped internationally by the Match Factory, “Wadjda” is the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.

Al Mansour’s debut, which she also wrote, is a coming-of-age drama that follows an 11-year-old girl growing up in traditional society in Riyadh who longs for a bicycle and ends up challenging deep-rooted Saudi customs in the process.

Pretty Pictures prexy James Velaise and Brigitte Suarez of the Match Factory negotiateddatedtory negotiatedthe deal.

“What caught our attention at script stage was that it’s a well-written, touching story by a talented, promising filmmaker,” Velaise said. “From a marketing point of view it’s a perfect package: it’s directed by a woman — the first female Saudi film director — in a country where no feature film has shot before and where there’s not even a theater.”

Velaise also pointed to the satisfying box office run of Mohamed Diab’s Egyptian drama “Cairo 678″ in France, where it grossed some $1.5 million. “French audiences seem to be intrigued by contemporary films shedding light on the condition of women in the Middle East.”

Pretty Pictures aims to release the film in France in February.

“Wadjda” was produced by Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner of Berlin-based Razor Film. In addition to German funding, the pic also secured backing from the Dubai Film Festival’s post-production support program.

The Match Factory has two other titles at Venice: Rama Burshtein’s Israeli drama “Fill the Void,” about an Orthodox Hasidic family in Tel Aviv facing a difficult marriage issue, which unspools in the main competition; and Turkish helmer Yesim Ustaoglu’s “Araf — Somewhere in Between,” about an adolescent small-town girl’s obsessive relationship with a middle-age trucker, screening in the Horizons competition.

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