You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Saudi Director Shahad Ameen on Subverting Patriarchal Power in ‘Scales’ (EXCLUSIVE TRAILER)

Young Saudi Arabian writer-director Shahad Ameen is making a splash in Venice with her debut feature “Scales,” a feminist fable that draws on Arabic folklore about a young woman named Hayat who rebels against the tradition in her fishing village of sacrificing female children to monstrous mermaids lurking in the sea. She spoke to Variety about the long journey of this visually impressive and narratively bold depiction of patriarchal power that packs a subtle but incisive punch.

I’ve been tracking this film for a long time. Can you talk to me about its journey?

I started writing the script for “Scales” when I was in post on my short “Eye & Mermaid,” on which the film’s concept is based on, even though it’s a completely different story. That was in around 2014. The script took a very long time before we got to where we were able to shoot; it went through lots of drafts. I’m so glad that in the end we really focussed the story on Hayat and her journey in particular and telling the story from her perspective. Then we shot in 2017, but we were in post for a very long time…Until we reached a cut that we were all happy with.

How personal is the story for you?

I wanted to tell a story of how when I was growing up I was ashamed of how my body changed. Because I was such a tomboy. I was like: ‘suddenly my muscles are weaker: that’s not fair! I used to be better than boys in sports just two days ago.’…I wanted to tell the story of how the pressure of being a girl in Saudi society can kind of ruin the idea of being a woman for you in the future. That’s been my story. But I felt it’s not just me…When I was in school I remember lots of little girls, the ones who liked sports, we were saying: ‘of course we want to be boys. Who would want to be a girl! That’s what it was like until I was, like, 23. And then I was like: ‘of course I want to be a woman!’ You have to unlearn a lot of the things that they taught you about yourself, about your body. To find peace with them. And I wanted to tell that story. For me that’s Hayat’s journey. Finding that peace. Finding that strength in her, that she didn’t realize she had.

It’s pretty clear that the film is quite personal. But it’s set in a timeless world that is not nationalistically defined.

Males write history, and they write the cycle of this world…I wanted to tell a timeless story because it could happen anytime and, really, any place. In Europe, in the U.S. the prejudices [against women] are more hidden. But, believe, me they are there.

What’s your hope for the film getting seen and understood in the Arab world? Do you feel it can have an impact, that it packs a punch?

Yes, I do. That’s why I made it. But a hidden punch. I didn’t feel a need to be very obvious about things. I wanted the film to have my identity; I love period pieces. I wanted it to be like the poetry I like. When I read Arab poetry I always feel like it has our identity and our voice. But when I watch our movies I feel like we haven’t established a very strong visual voice. I wanted to have that. I don’t care about action. My story is a story of contemplation; of meditation. I really wanted it to have this clear visual identity that is different.

What are the prospects of ‘Scales’ getting distributed in Saudi?

I really hope it gets shown. The Saudis who saw it here in Venice loved it. That was encouraging. We shall see.

More Film

  • Director Fernando Meirelles'The Two Popes' film

    Fernando Meirelles' Next Project Will Be Climate-Change Drama for Netflix

    Acclaimed Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles said Tuesday that his next film will be another project for Netflix, like his current film, “The Two Popes.” The new feature will be a drama about climate change, Meirelles (“City of God”) told a masterclass at the Mumbai Film Festival, where “The Two Popes” is screening. “I’m not going [...]

  • Ken Loach. Palme D'Or - I,

    Ken Loach, Fernando Meirelles Heap More Criticism on Marvel Movies

    Veteran British director Ken Loach and acclaimed Brazilian helmer Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) have piled on the criticism of Marvel films. Two-time Palme d’Or winner Loach described comic-book movies as “commodities…like hamburgers,” while Meirelles said he was “not interested” in the genre. The pair are the latest directors to echo Martin Scorsese’s disdain for [...]

  • Martinez

    Luxbox Boards Lorena Padilla’s ‘Martinez,’ Starring Francisco Reyes (EXCLUSIVE)

    MORELIA, Mexico — Paris-based Luxbox has picked up international sales rights to Guadalajara native Lorena Padilla’s debut feature “Martinez,” toplining Francisco Reyes who starred opposite Daniela Vega in Chile’s Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman.” “We have totally embraced the singularity of this project which brings to our eyes the potential of a film that can entertain [...]


    Berlin-based Pluto Films Snags Sales Rights to Joshua Gil’s ‘Sanctorum’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MORELIA, Mexico — Berlin-based Pluto Film Distribution has picked up the international sales rights, with the exception of Mexico, to Joshua Gil’s ‘Sanctorum,” which competes at the 17th Morelia Int’l Film Festival (FICM). Founded by Torsten Frehse, the fledgling world sales and festival distribution company has an eye for arthouse and crossover films as well as features from emerging [...]

  • Crowds Of German Refugees Pictured On

    'Last Days in Vietnam's' Rory Kennedy to Direct AR Content’s Refugee Documentary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alexander Rodnyansky’s AR Content – in partnership with Kevin Macdonald, an Oscar winner with “One Day in September,” and Rosanne Korenberg – has tapped Academy Award nominated and Emmy winning director Rory Kennedy, best known for “Last Days in Vietnam,” to direct its untitled documentary centering on a little-known refugee crisis immediately preceding World War [...]

  • Global Screen Nabs ‘Amazing Maurice,’ Based

    Global Screen Picks Up ‘The Amazing Maurice,’ Based on Terry Pratchett’s Novel (EXCLUSIVE)

    Global Screen has picked up worldwide distribution rights, excluding North America, the U.K. and German-speaking territories, to the English-language animated feature “The Amazing Maurice,” based on a Terry Pratchett novel. The screenplay has been written by Terry Rossio, Oscar-nominated for “Shrek.” Rossio’s credits also include the animated movie “Aladdin” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” [...]

  • Yoji Yamada-directed film is to open

    Tokyo Market: Shochiku Launches Horror, Comedy and Mystery Lineup

    Major Japanese studio, Shochiku has the honor of leading off next week’s Tokyo International Film Festival with its “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here.” The film is a revival of a beloved in-house drama franchise, directed by veteran Yoji Yamada, that is set as the event’s opening night gala presentation. Before that, the company has the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content