Arab women lead ‘new generation’ in documentary filmmaking


Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour poses for a photo in the Egyptian resort town of El-Gouna on October 21, 2021. Photo: AFP

Alongside the celebrities who parade on the red carpet of film festivals in Egypt, a traditional powerhouse of regional cinema, young Arab women directors stand out with documentaries tackling subjects ranging from feminicide to revolution.

Taking a break from networking at the El-Gouna Red Sea Film Festival in October, Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour, 30, spoke about her feature documentary The women of my life.

“The main theme is the life and death of young women and girls in Iraq. It explores how Iraqi society treats femicide as if it were normal,” she told AFP.

Ghandour said that “in the last few years a new generation has emerged in the 1990s and 2000s with new leadership,” especially after the October 2019 protests calling for the overthrow of the ruling class in Iraq.

“We want to free ourselves from the stereotypes that world cinema locks us in,” she said.

“It’s as if there are trends and they [international backers] want us to comply with these funding guidelines, ”Ghandour said.

“What if I want to make a horror movie? I want to do whatever I want as long as it’s high quality.”

Women of My Life, in which she plays one of the main characters, follows the macabre death of a young woman suspected of having been executed by male relatives.

“As Iraqis in general our lives are unstable but the targeted killing of women in particular (…) cannot be trivialized,” she said.

Rich table

For Rafia Oraidi, a Palestinian producer, the fractured landscape of life under Israeli occupation offers a rich picture of stories.

Work with American-Palestinian filmmaker Hind Shoufani on They planted strange trees, the international team put the finishing touches to the post-production.

“It is a meditative journey taking place in Galilee which traces the daily life of the inhabitants of the village where the director is from,” said Oraidi.

Oraidi mentions independent Palestinian directors such as Hany Abu-Assad and Elia Suleiman whose films have won Oscar nominations and awards at Cannes.

“Without the personal attention of the filmmakers, the patience and perseverance … despite the conditions we live in, we wouldn’t have a single film on screen,” she said.

“We want to show that there are many other stories in Palestine besides war, destruction and occupation,” Oraidi said, noting that the biggest challenge for independent Arab filmmakers is the lack of facilities like studios. It “inflates the budget and we are forced to join forces with other co-producers to get funding,” she said.

Is doing better than Hollywood

Tunisian screenwriter and director Fatma Riahi is at the start of a feature film, My father killed Bourguiba, which attempts “to tell the story of Tunisia over the past 30 years through a biographical and personal story”.

Centered on his father, the documentary follows his role in a plan to overthrow Habib Bourguiba’s regime in a 1987 military coup and its current repercussions after the 2011 revolution that overthrew his successor Zine El Abidine. Ben Ali.

“I hope that the film … will give an alternative reading … of Tunisian history … from coups d’etat to revolutions through what we are going through now,” said the 30-something director. years.

“For women in Arab cinema, the number of female directors, for example, is always lower than that of men. It is not only a regional phenomenon but also a global one,” Riahi told AFP.

But Arab cinema seems to be doing better than Hollywood, where of the 250 biggest films released in 2020, only 18% were directed by women.