A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

15 Jun, '04

Haifaa Al-Mansour first Saudi female film directorIt’s not all doom and gloom in Saudi, rays of hope continue to emanate from the magic kingdom:

Haifaa Al-Mansour is thought to be the only woman filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. Her three short films are cult favorites here and have made her a hero among her peers in the Saudi film making community, an industry recently born of the digital revolution. In a country where a fundamentalist government does not tolerate cinema’s freedom of expression, remarkably she has not been censured.

Hollywood Reporter

Haifa is the first female Saudi film director. Graduated from Cairo University in English Literature in 1997, she proceeded to make her first movie to international acclaim. She comes from an artistic family, her father is the famous Saudi poet Abdulrahman Al-Mansour.

Please visit her site, she exhibits something that we all knew, but the Wahabis try very hard to eradicate; an educated and creative person in Saudi.

Filed in: General
Tagged with:

Comments (21)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. anonymous says:

    A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    I was just having a discussion with a friend about the film industry in Bahrain or its lack thereof. He studied filming in the USA and actually ended up playing small parts in a major Hollywood movie and a few other independent American films. He came back to Bahrain with a lot of plans and ideas which he introduced to the “pioneers� of filmmaking in Bahrain. But the response was, besides the bureaucracy and delay in the system to implement the project, a discouragement and an evident unwillingness to cooperate from those who are in a position to help.

    He said that those people fear their status and the name they have established for themselves in Bahrain to be threatened by a fresh new blood.

    In addition, there were no sponsors brave enough to invest in him. Bahrainis just don’t take risks, he told me.

    “They can crush your dreams, but not your spirit� he said, and so he’ll continue to pursue his dream of directing and making a name for the Bahraini cinema.

    Now, that is one unique experience. I don’t know how valid it is.

    But I really do hope that more Bahrainis, whether men or women, venture into this field and create real quality cinema that we can all be proud of.

    – global soul

  2. mahmood says:

    A Prize of Merit for Haifa

    Haifaa Al-MansourShe’s also received the Prize of Merit [arabic] from the 4th Rotterdam Arabic Film Festival for her movie “The only way out”.

    She’s not stopping there either, she’s entering her movie into the French Arab Film Festival where it’s the only and the first Saudi movie accepted into that prestigious festival.

    Any Bahraini girls doing something in movies? If Haifa can do it in that repressive country, why aren’t our girls venturing out into this industry?

  3. mahmood says:

    Re: A Prize of Merit for Haifa


    that link above doesn’t work as it breaks the line length..

  4. anonymous says:

    Re: A Prize of Merit for Haifa

    There so many talented people in Bahrain and they never had the chance to show it. They have been, as usual, suppressed and marginalised.

    One of my friends who used to live in Bahrain is a movie director and worked in that industry while he was studying in India. He came to Bahrain and knocked on every single door and had no chance what so ever to achieve anything. The maximum he was able to do is to direct some very low budget commercial adverts. He gave up and moved to the US where he is a step closer to his dream. Although he is working in a film editing company he is at least doing something closer to his target.

    Film making is like any other industry that needs supportive and creative atmosphere and I guess we lack that in Bahrain. I am not saying this to give up; I am saying it to step up the support for those talented individuals on every level.


  5. Princess_Kate says:

    Re: A Prize of Merit for Haifa

    I watched “Who?” awhile ago, and I thought it was brilliant — especially considering what she had to go through to get it made.

    I’ve got a degree in Film Studies, and after making a few films of my own, I can tell you how difficult it is to make even a short film. Thanks, Mahmood, for drawing my attention to her again!

    Hey — when is your trip?

  6. anonymous says:

    A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    Why would you wait for approval? You can buy videocam, PC, DVD burner, and editing software for about $3000. That’s all you need to make it happen at the simplest level. Start shooting your film and burn it on DVD. If it’s any good, people will spread the word and buy it. You can refine your technique on the cheap with equipment so cheap.

    That is the revolutionary aspect of the PC: It leverages the individual’s power, just as printing books expanded the individual’s intellectual world. You can have the equivalent of a Hollywood editing shop right in your home. Cheap technology reduces your risks. Exploit this technology and work your way up from there to theater releases.

    Famous Amos, a businessman who made a million selling chocolate chip cookies here in America, said the most important thing in any business is to start. Don’t wait around hoping for approval or for better conditions or more money. Just start. Where ever you are right this minute, take the first step.


  7. mahmood says:

    Bahrain’s absent film industry

    I hear you. My own brother Hani went approximately through the same thing. He started as a tech support guy for Discreet Logic in London, got to be too good at it and with his inherent creativity, he was “snapped up” by a post-production house in London to do their compositing and retouching work, soon after that he was one of the guys who received the special effects Oscars for Gladiator! He was the guy who composited the huge crowds scenes, the tigers and various other bits and pieces. If you watch the “making of” DVD, you will see him in the very first shot with director Ridley Scott talking about the composite.

    He’s now been settled in England for the last 8 or 9 years, and I hope he never comes back here to this creative graveyard. Other than that, no one in the Middle East can afford his pay-scale!

  8. mahmood says:

    Toronto, brace brace, the Al-Yousifs are coming!!

    We fly into Toronto on July 2nd. A couple of weeks, a couple of weeks, a couple of weeks TO FREEDOM and FUN!!

  9. anonymous says:

    Re(1): A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    That’s interesting, Mahmood. What’s the rationale behind banning shooting photos and video? Does that stem from the Islamic thing about representing human forms or is it a cultural taboo or is just the normal repressive government not wanting photos taken? Or is it something else I haven’t thought of?



  10. mahmood says:

    Re: A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    That’s true. Bahrain TV is not a very special case, it’s the same with most Arab state broadcasters, once a person gets into a seat, then the only way that he’s going to leave it is when he’s put in a box 6 feet under. It doesn’t matter that the last creative thing they have done is 20 years ago, they get promoted simply because of the number of years they are in that organisation. So having “new blood” is a major threat to them.

    It’s the same that you very seldom find a department whose manager barely scraped through high-school having staff of university education. Therefore the whole organisation’s level is tied to the educational and creative level of its leader.

    What someone who’s quite high up at Bahrain TV told me describing the same organisation he works for is that it’s “the creativity’s graveyard.” I have also described it on many occasions as simply a “geriatric unit” maybe a “hostel” would probably be more appropriate.

    The good thing is that if you are creative enough and are hungry to show your work from an artistic point of view, you do no need any of these organisations. You can strike it on your own with the minimum equipment which are very affordable these days. Like Steve said below, all you need is about $3,000 to get started. Sure you will face problems because before you take a camera outside to shoot something, someone will stop you demanding to see your “approval to shoot” from the Ministery of Information, but that’s another story. Be like Nike and Just Do It!

  11. mahmood says:

    Re: A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    That’s very true Steve. Sure there are many problems to overcome in this area of the world, for instance, in Saudi you cannot shoot anything (stills or video) without express permission from several Ministries. Even phones with cameras are officially banned.

    In Bahrain it’s a little bit more relaxed but you still need some stamped pieces of paper from the Ministry of Information in order for you to shoot a video. Not sure about stills, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a law forbidding it.

    Regardless, like you said you can use very little budget to make movies and I know quite a number of people who have done just that. We trained 21 of these creative people through the Bahrain Cinema Club earlier in the year on how to direct, shoot, edit and deploy short movies and that course (7 weeks) was very successful.

    To put it into perspective, the kind of budget you need to get started if you don’t have anything at all:

    1. DV Camera (single CCD, consumer) ~ BD 300
    2. Computer with 120GB disk and 1GB RAM and DV card ~ BD 350
    3. DV Editing software, FREE or if you want something more professional it would cost ~ BD 280

    So the total budget would be approximately BD 930 ($2,470) which is within reach of most people.

    Most amateurs would write their own stories, break it down to scenes, and get their friends and family to act, all of which requires a lot of time, but hardly any money at all. So if you’re creative enough you can get started and show your work.

    Like you said as well, if you add a DVD burner, you can print your own DVDs and sell them in the local market through record shops, clubs, etc.

    It would be a lot easier if the government or even a private organisation supported these creative people with money and facilities.

    At Computer Point we have 2 edit suites which we use for demonstrations. They’re available FREE OF CHARGE to these creative people if they want to make use of them. That’s my personal contribution! Call me if you need to book them, the criteria is that they are NOT available for commercial use. We’ll even help train you to use them!!

  12. mahmood says:

    Avid FreeDV

    Here’s a link and instructions on how to get the free version of the Avid FreeDV editor. It’s only got two video tracks and two audio tracks, but if you’re doing just home movies or shorts, this will do very nicely. Because it’s based on the Avid editing interface (who own about 80% of the editing market) then once you’ve mastered it, you can work on ANY Avid system, be that the Xpress DV entry level product for $700, or the Symphony for $150,000!

  13. anonymous says:

    A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour


    I would and will like to donate $25.00 us to the first person or group who is in Bahrain that is serious about taking Mahmood up on his FREE Software offer. While $25.00 us won’t finance a project or buy all the equipment needed it will help. I hope others who visit this site will consider making a donation as well. $5, $10, $20 etc will help and is affordable for most who visit this site.

    J.Mark Doenitz


  14. mahmood says:

    Re: A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    Thank you for your continued support Mark, I do, as I’m sure the people who will receive these donations will appreciate your gesture.

    This prompts me to further say that whoever produces their short movie with our help, I will put it up on mahmood.tv for the whole world’s viewing pleasure.

  15. kategirl says:

    A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    Sounds like a great idea. I have tinkered with the idea for a while, but I’m yet to get anything serious done. In the meanwhile, if anyone else is serious about making a movie in Bahrain then I will pledge BD25 and maybe more depending on the idea. I’d also be very willing to help out in any other way that I can on the project, with the admin and stuff.

    If there is someone serious about doing this then please email me.

  16. mahmood says:

    The Mahmood.TV Short Movie Challenge

    is hereby announced! We have Haifa to thank for this of course, so I hope that she can lend her expertise with our budding filmmakers!

  17. Princess_Kate says:

    Re: Toronto, brace brace, the Al-Yousifs are coming!!

    Hmmm, TO is only a 4 1/2 hour drive from me — let me know if there’s a meetup in the works!

  18. mahmood says:

    No pictures please!

    Not sure, my interpretation is that they don’t want the rest of the world to see that we have strife, poverty and other unsavoury aspects of life in our countries I guess. I don’t think they will apply this law (if it exists) when shooting “happy” occasions, but will most certainly penalise you if you shot shanty-towns, murder, crimes, or anything that could make the country “lose face”.

    I’ll check with some people I know at the Ministery of (dis)Information next week and see if I can dig out the law and maybe an explanation or the rationale behind it.

  19. esraa says:

    A ray of hope… called Haifa Al-Mansour

    I have a group of female university students who will be taking my course “Women in Film” this fall. We’ll be looking at female filmmakers, as well as female character roles and stereotypes, as we view films from Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, China, Japan, Germany, Bosnia, France, UK and US.

    For the semester project each student will be producing a 3-5 minute short video highlighting one of the gender issues discussed in class. We’ll be working in tandem with an “Intro to Videography” course being taught by a 2nd instructor. We hope to cap off the year with a gala Doha premier of emerging women filmmakers” 😉

    Thanks for the link to Haifa Al-Mansour!


  20. unlissted says:

    Yes a ray of hope…..she married a american …finally a gulf arab girl who married a non -arab….

Back to Top