Haifaa Al Mansour hopeful about future of Saudi film and keen to break stereotypes about Arab men

Her latest film, 'The Perfect Candidate', is now available to download online

In 'The Perfect Candidate', Mila Alzahrani plays Maryam, a doctor whose decision to run for local office causes consternation in her community
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When asked about the state of filmmaking in Saudi Arabia in a digital talk on Wednesday night, filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour said she was very hopeful.

"Saudi has a lot of stories to tell," The Perfect Candidate director said, adding that filmmaking in the kingdom is still an industry finding its roots, but that the opening of cinemas and film production will see things progress.

"We don't really have casting agents or location scouts, so the elements that make the industry smoother are still missing, but it will eventually come," she said.

After its festival run was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, her latest film, The Perfect Candidate, has been released digitally.

The film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year, was scheduled to show in the Arab world for the first time at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia, but the festival was cancelled due to concerns around Covid-19.

My inspiration for all my films are people that I know

The Perfect Candidate captures a society that is in transformation through the story of Miriam, a female Saudi doctor who challenges the patriarchal system by running for municipal office in order to fix the road leading up to her clinic.

Speaking during an online Q&A held by the Arab British Centre, Al Mansour said the film will still see a Middle East release. "Our plans changed, but we will definitely release in April or May in the Middle East, depending on how the situation develops."

Moving beyond stereotypes of Saudi women, and men

Talking about the film, Al Mansour said that her characters are inspired by the people in her life.

"My inspiration for all my films are people that I know," said Al Mansour. "I come from a huge family of 12 siblings, and number 12 is a doctor who is called Miriam," she said.

"And my number 11 sister is a party girl, but they have a very good relationship, hence the relationship between Salma and Miriam, and I feel it's important to celebrate that kind of sisterhood between women."

Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour attends a photocall on August 29, 2019 for the film "The Perfect Candidate" during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido. / AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI
Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour at the photocall for 'The Perfect Candidate' at the Venice Film Festival in 2019. AFP

Al Mansour thinks it's important to move beyond stereotypes in film, giving an example of how the father figure in Middle Eastern literature is often depicted as abusive.

"Not all fathers are like that; there are people who are soft spoken and kind and not shy to show some emotions and cry, and that is my father and I think it's very important to celebrate images like that because hopefully Middle Eastern men see themselves in that."

As Saudi's first major female film director, Al Mansour currently works and lives in the United States with her family.

"I'll be working in Hollywood after making a film in Saudi Arabia, so maybe after a couple of films here I'll go back home and do something again in Saudi."

Al Mansour has helmed English-language films such as Mary Shelley and Nappily Ever After, while her Arabic film Wadjda, set in Saudi, received much critical acclaim.

The Perfect Candidate is currently available for download at modernfilms.com