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INTERVIEW: Saudi women have great stories to tell, according to Netflix director

DUBAI: Netflix launches on July 7 a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films entitled “Because she created”.

Featuring films by female directors, the collection includes documentaries as well as dramas and romance films, amplifying the creative voices of Arab filmmakers.

The filmmakers hail from various countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, etc.

The Because She Created platform was first launched last year as a virtual panel discussion bringing together Arab filmmakers to discuss the changing role of women in the regional film industry.

Netflix then partnered with the Cairo International Film Festival to host the second edition of Because She Created A Fireside Chat with famous Tunisian actress Hend Sabry. Today, the streaming giant is using the platform to launch a collection of specially curated films that spotlight Arab filmmakers.

“We have female filmmakers, writers, producers and actresses who have been creating their own wave in the regional entertainment industry for decades,” Nuha El-Tayeb, Director of Content Acquisitions, Netflix MENA and Turkey, told Arab News.

“Filmmakers in the Arab world are more aware that to be seen, they must have authenticity, but also deliver a universal story. There’s a return to powerful female leads in commercial cinema, young creatives are breaking traditional genre boxes and women are finding more ways to tell stories they haven’t been able to tell before,” he said. -she adds.

Arab cinema has had a moment on the world stage in recent years. In 2019, Nadine Labaki became the first Arab woman nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars thanks to her title “Capernaum”. Yet there are gaps in the industry that need to be filled.

One way to create more opportunities for women is to give them more autonomy over their stories, El-Tayeb said. “Actors need to be more aware of the narratives and stories they choose to be involved in and demand better and more authentic portrayals of women in film.”

This is particularly important given that there are fewer screenplays written for female characters, while male characters “remain the lifeblood of Arab cinema”, she said.

“We know that more women behind the camera have a ripple effect for women in front,” El-Tayeb added. Netflix recently renewed “AlRawabi School for Girls” and “Finding Ola” for another season. Both shows are led by female showrunners and are in Netflix’s top 10 worldwide.

“The success of these shows has helped Arab talent, creators and storytellers reach new audiences and instilled a sense of pride,” she said.

Since lifting the cinema ban in 2018, Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in the creative industries, allocating $64 billion to the entertainment sector alone. During the Red Sea Film Festival last year, the Ministry of Investment announced that the Kingdom would support the production of 100 films by 2030.

The Saudi Film Commission also announced an incentive program earlier this year offering financial reimbursements of up to 40% to local and international producers filming in the Kingdom.

“There is incredible talent in Saudi Arabia,” El-Tayeb said. “The entertainment landscape is changing rapidly, and Saudi women – like other women in the Arab world and around the world – have beautiful, complex stories to tell.”

Netflix is ​​already working with Arab women to not only help tell their stories, but to amplify their voices to reach global audiences. In April, it partnered with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture to award five Arab filmmakers $250,000 to bring their work to life.

The streaming giant also worked with screenwriter and director Hana Al-Omair on ‘Whispers’, an eight-part psychological thriller, as well as with Haifaa Al-Mansour on ‘Wadjda’, the first feature film directed by a Saudi female director. .

As Saudi women become more involved in government and private industries, El-Tayeb hopes they will “gain more autonomy over their stories and give more people a chance to see their lives reflected in the screen.

“With more women behind the camera, we can also expect more Saudi women to play leading roles and carry films in ways they may not have had the opportunity to do before. .”

One of the films featured in the collection is “Sanctity” by Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel, which tells the story of a young Saudi widow who endures a world of hardship to protect her unborn child.

The film was nominated for a Golden Bear at the 2013 Berlinale and won a Golden Aleph at the Beirut International Film Festival as well as a Development Award at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

For many, the subject of the film may seem somewhat controversial. But for Kamel, it’s just about what a woman would do without a man, and “I don’t see anything controversial in that,” she told Arab News.

The idea for the film was born from Kamel’s personal experience. At 14, when she loses her father, Kamel sees her mother struggle to put the pieces back together and manage the household.

“I wanted to explore the subject of what a woman’s power is and where it lies,” she said. “I truly believe that women can endure so much more than men and that’s something I wanted to honor.”

Kamel, who is also an actor, grew up in the Kingdom when a career in the film industry was not even possible. She moved to the United States to study cinema – her true passion – and acting happened by chance.

In her initial roles, Kamel was cast as a terrorist, then “promoted” to a refugee and CIA agent. Going from terrorist to counterterrorism agent for an Arab-Muslim woman in Hollywood may seem like progress, but Kamel said it’s tied to a “political idea, whether we create terrorism or fight it.”

Despite these challenges, Kamel added that “you have to keep believing in what you believe in.”

The transformation of the Kingdom, in particular, “changes the whole paradigm”, she said. “If we (women) can say that we participate in writing the history of our culture and our country, it is something quite revolutionary and amazing.”

Netflix’s Because She Created collection includes films from established and award-winning filmmakers as well as new talent. It also hosts works from “several underrepresented regions of the Arab world” that deserve a wider audience, El-Tayeb said.

“With this collection, we want to showcase the diversity and depth of the work of women filmmakers in the region,” she added.

“We hope that through the collection, people around the world will get a glimpse of award-winning masterpieces, directorial debuts and several harrowing stories of Arab filmmakers.”