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Women Without Shadows (2006)|
Date of birth:
1974, Saudi Arabia
I am the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. My work is dedicated to providing a platform for the unheard voices of Saudi women, and to fostering direct social change for Arab women. -- Haifaa al-Mansour
I do not want to insult. Although there are many things I dislike, I can express myself in a way that society will listen and debate. -- Haifa al-Mansur
With the utmost simplicity and personal approach, Al Mansour, succeeds in capturing rare footage inside her own town in Saudi Arabia. Questioning and approaching questions regarding the human condition of different Saudi women. A seldom film from Saudi Arabia.
“WOMEN Without Shadows” is a Saudi documentary directed by the Saudi film producer, Haifa Mansour. The documentary, which unfortunately cannot be publicly screened in the Kingdom, was shown to a select audience at the French Consulate in Jeddah.
As the title indicates, the film is about Saudi women, their problems and their development over time.
In general the filmmaker asked a number of women such basic questions as: Why do you work? Do you think women have the right to work? Do you approve of women going out alone?
Some of the women interviewed, including Haifa Mansour’s mother, spoke of their memories and how simple and uncomplicated life was in those days. One of them even talked about how, when she was a child, young boys and girls played together openly and without fear of reproof.
Another mentioned that those were times when a woman was not asked to prove who she was with when she was outside her family house.
In the documentary, a well-known religious scholar, Ayed Al-Garni, was asked what he thought about women covering their faces. His answer was that women do not have to cover their faces as long as they are modestly dressed. He also talked about the opposition he encounters when he voices opinions at variance with the common majority-held ones concerning women’s issues.
Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour received this year's (2009, Abu Dhabi) Sacha Grant worth $100,000.
What I have mentioned so far is all in the film; what happened next, however, was not filmed but is easily worth its own documentary. The very same scholar sent a letter to all the Arabic language papers that carried reports on the film.
In the letter, he said that he had been approached by other prominent scholars and advised to change what he said in the film. He said that he had also received angry responses from a number of people about what he had said. In the end, he decided to retract his statements. He said that he was wrong to say what he said and he now understands that women should always cover themselves and that he is against “sofoor wa tabaruj” — the unveiling and displaying of what might attract attention.
In the documentary he also told how he had been attacked for supporting women driving and he referred to those who attacked him as “exclusionists” who do not respect the opinions of others. Once again, that was on film but the scholar later once again backpedaled and said that even if women driving is OK in other countries, it is still not OK for Saudi women to do so.
As the film focused on how ideas and attitudes have changed, nothing proves that they have not done so more than his initial statements and subsequent retractions. The questions that come to mind are: What kind of change are we experiencing? Where are we heading?
The film tried to imply that there has been a change from the conservative view on women’s issues, but we can see clearly that the opposite is the case.
Then there is another question which needs to be carefully considered here: Are we free to hold opinions which differ from the majority-held ones? Must we always swim in the mainstream? If the sheikh could not bear the opposition and so returned to the generally accepted opinions, what does that tell us about our efforts to ensure freer thought and differences of opinion? After every terrorist attack, we heard calls to open up and listen to others’ opinions, to actually discuss and engage in dialogues with different ways of thinking so that a one-sided view of things did not remain the norm.
Every bomber and every terrorist who killed innocent people had a single way of thinking which he considered not only the right one but the only possible one. I wonder if everyone in the Kingdom is obliged to have the same opinion on everything. Would that make our lives easier?
Are we going to have standard thoughts which we must all think? What about other Islamic countries? Are they less Islamic than we are? And exactly and fundamentally, what is wrong with having different opinions if in our religion we have several “matahaib” — schools of thought? Those who produced the different schools of thoughts were respected scholars. Can’t we be like them? And why do we always hear the same thing: “Saudi women are different.” I can’t help but wonder why. How are we Saudi women different from all other Muslim women?
Selected filmography of Haifaa al-Mansour
- Women Without Shadows (2006)
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