Opening this year’s Horizons of Arab Cinema section at the Cairo Film Festival, the omnibus film “Becoming” shows just how far the Saudi filmmaking community has come in supporting female filmmakers.

Playing in an Out-of-Competition slot, directors Sara Mesfer, Fatima Al Banawi, Jawaher Alamri, Hind Al Fahhad and Noor Alameer collaborated to create this 70-minute fiction film, which seeks to amplify female filmmaking visions from the region.

The filmmakers looked to “explore the human depth, under the pressure of suffering, secrets, anxiety and fear,” according to the official synopsis.

“The only theme that really united us here was womanhood,” Mesfer tells Variety.

“Becoming” was made in 2020 over a six month period, but was delayed being shown because of the pandemic, she says.

For Mesfer, it is the second omnibus project she has participated in. The first, “Quareer,” plays at the Red Sea Film Festival in December. The two experiences were worlds apart, she says.

“For ‘Becoming’ we all worked really independently. But for ‘Quareer,’ we had a much stronger collaboration,” she says. “I also produced that one so I had a much more central role.” Mesfer was also a writer on “Quareer,” which looks at women carving out a place in the world despite their harsh treatment in a conservative society. The other filmmakers are Ragheed Al Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi and Noor Alameer.

Mesfer grew to love film as a child, she says. “We had working parents so most of my early experiences were film and TV. It was my window to the world. I don’t know how to express myself in words but I can visualize. At 14, I started reading a lot of novels and then I started visualizing words into films,” she says.

She studied Cinematic Arts at Effat University in Saudi Arabia, and in 2018, made her first short, “Balcony.” Her most recent short film, “The Girls Who Burned the Night,” received a special mention in Cairo last year. The story follows two sisters who have an encounter during a visit to a supermarket, which leads to a series of violent events.

In “Becoming,” Mesfer instead looks at the impact on a mother-daughter relationship when the daughter decides to have an abortion.

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Sara Mesfer Courtesy of Cairo Film Festival

“I always make films that reflect my own experience,” she says. “If I feel blue then I make a film about feeling blue. This short in ‘Becoming’ is about things that were going on around me. She cannot afford a doctor. She goes the traditional way to abort the baby using cinnamon. It’s an observation of a mother-daughter relationship.”

The Saudi filmmaking scene has only recently welcomed women in film. “The filmmaking scene here probably began around 2006,” she says. “But it really isn’t until about 2014 that women directors started breaking through.”

There are still obstacles for women.

“I think filmmaking is difficult for both men and women, but I do feel that we still deal with a lot of prejudices like judgement about whether we can really hold a camera or direct,” she says. “I’m pretty sure as a female, I face double the issues. There are trust issues and discrimination, if it’s a film made by a woman.”