I’m so proud to have shot the first full-length feature ever filmed entirely inside the Kingdom. I come from a small town in Saudi Arabia where there are many girls like Wadjda who have big dreams, strong characters, and so much potential. These girls can, and will, reshape and redefine our nation. It was important for me to work with an all-Saudi cast, to tell this story with authentic, local voices. Filming was an amazing cross-cultural collaboration that brought two immensely talented crews, from Germany and Saudi Arabia, into the heart of Riyadh. I hope the film offers a unique insight into my own country and speaks of universal themes of hope and perseverance that people of all cultures can relate to."
Growing up, al-Mansour’s father encouraged her to pursue her dream of making films. In a country where there is extreme societal pressure to restrict women to certain jobs and roles, al-Mansour was fortunate to have the support of her father in achieving whatever she wanted. Although she has received negative criticism for her career choice, she has had a positive impact on many Saudi women.
What began as a dream in a small town in Saudi, turned into a reality for al-Mansour. She not only has directed three short films, Who?, The Bitter Journey, and The Only Way Out, and an award-winning 2005 documentary, Women Without Shadows, she is now also a director of a feature length film. Her film, Wadjda, is about a 10-year-old girl living in the Saudi capital Riyadh, who wants a bike in a society that sees bicycles as a threat to women's virtue.
While the film has received critical acclaim around the world, it cannot be viewed in Saudi because there are no movie theaters. Fortunately, al-Mansour was able to find an all-Saudi cast, including two lead female roles, despite the Kingdom’s restrictive culture and nonexistent film industry. Shooting the entire film within her country also proved difficult for al-Mansour. As a woman, her mobility was restricted in certain aspects and places, but she worked within these limitations to accomplish something bigger. To her, it is more powerful to work within the system to change it rather than fight against it.
Al-Mansour has inspired and empowered women through her work. Her films not only expose aspects of Saudi society and culture that need critical examination, but al-Mansour also ignites discussions around issues most Saudis would consider taboo. Epsilon Alpha Sigma applauds Haifaa al-Mansour’s courage and talent and is delighted to present her with this title.