An Abu Dhabi-made fantasy film is to have its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival next month.
Sayidat Al Bahr (or Scales in English), by Abu Dhabi's Image Nation, tells the story of Hayat, a young girl living in a village with a tradition of sacrificing female children to mysterious creatures in the sea. When her time to be sacrificed comes, she rejects this dystopian reality and decides to forge her own path.
The film is the work of Saudi Arabian writer and director Shahad Ameen, and follows her award-winning short Eye & Mermaid, which premiered at Dubai International Film Festival in 2013.
Shot on location in Oman, Scales is a rare Arab arthouse film exploring the changing role of women in society through the lens of fantasy. It is set to premiere next month as part of Venice Critics' Week competition.
Announcing the news, Image Nation called it a “great milestone” for Arab cinema.
"Scales tells a visceral story about growing up as a woman in a patriarchal society, offering an allegorical take on a universal theme that will resonate with audiences around the world," said Ameen.
“Relying on simple yet powerful storytelling, it is a very visual experience with minimal dialogue – maintaining a timeless, meditative aspect even in its action scenes. I want to immerse viewers in Hayat’s journey from her own point of view, letting them share in her experience as she finds her true self.”
Scales stars Basima Hajjar as Hayat, alongside Ashraf Barhom and Fatima Al Taei. The film was executive produced by Mohamed Al Daradji and Majid Ansari.
“This nuanced, artistic project embraces film’s power to address important subjects like freedom and belonging,” said Ben Ross, chief content officer at Image Nation.
"Scales is part of Image Nation's efforts to expand our slate to encompass more intriguing, specialty films alongside our more commercial projects. We foresee that Scales will be well-received on the festival circuit. This is a film that brings profound insights into contemporary culture. We hope that it will bring further recognition of the region's growing maturity and sophistication."
Why is Venice Film Festival so important?
Venice is one of the "big three" film festivals in cinema’s calendar, and is also the oldest event of its kind in the world, making its debut in 1932. The event is hosted by The Biennale, and is part of a wider celebration of the arts in the Italian city.
Venice is widely seen as a testing ground for future award-winning films. The submissions process is a highly competitive one, with the final line-up including premieres from world-renowned filmmakers and A-list celebrities.
In recent years, films that have opened the festival have gone on to dominate nominations at the Academy Awards, as was the case with La La Land in 2016 and Gravity in 2013. Critically acclaimed films including Roma and The Shape of Water have also enjoyed debuts in Venice.
This year, the festival will open with The Truth, the latest film from multi-award-winning Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.
The 76th edition of the Venice International Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7.