Forget the snow and lack of spring weather… Mid-March can only mean one thing – The ‘Human Rights Watch’ Film Festival!
Running from 13-22 March, 2013 saw its 16th anniversary, celebrating the defence and protection of human rights. Annually screening approximately 500 films in 8 cities, the festival attracts transnational audiences through its multiple trans-border locations, gaining followers from London to Toronto, Zurich to New York. Run by the ‘Human Rights Watch’ organisation, the festival aims to “create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens”, thus hoping to “empower individuals with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference”[i].
London’s closing ceremony, held in Brixton’s very own ‘Ritzy’ razzle-dazzle cinema, was on Friday 22March. ‘Wadjda’ was the film chosen to close the event. A co-production between Saudi-Arabia and Germany, the film is renowned on the film festival circuit since its release in Venice 2012. Not only is it the “first full-length feature film shot entirely inside Saudi Arabia”[ii] , Haifaa Al-Mansour is also Saudi’s first female director. No doubt then, the film is revolutionary and rather telling of life in the capital, Riyadh.
The film, titled after the 10-year-old female protagonist Wadjda, follows a girl’s fight of defiance. Director Mansour swallows us into her world, revealing the on-going patriarchal society. Women are still considered as second-class citizens[iii], unable to leave the house or get a job without the approval of their husbands, lest they insult their reputation. In fact director Mansour had to “direct several scenes via walkie-talkie while hiding out of sight in a van”[iv]!
Mansour explores these inequalities through a child’s innocent perspective. Wadjda, a child ridden with curiosity, is eager to own a bike so that she may race (and beat!) her male friend Abdullah. Her mother refuses to buy her a bike, claiming bikes to be dangerous to a woman’s virtue. How inconceivable it is to imagine a woman cycling! Wadjda is instead forced to raise the money herself, upon hearing of the prize money at a Quran competition. Her strength and determination make it a tale that can be easily related and understood by viewers and activists new to the Saudi Arabian context.
Whilst the subject matter is playful, Mansour’s implications are much greater. The film is an interesting watch, as it is informing of the on-going repression in their society. There are plentiful laughs, as Wadjda’s cheeky character is heart-warming, yet there is a stronger more political message to be explored by the audience.
The experience at the Ritzy proved delightful – £10 ticket that included film entry, a free drink and some middle-eastern cuisine. The crowd did not disappoint; the provided ‘dinner’ was set apart in the upstairs foyer, thus allowing a more intimate setting in which attendees could mingle and share their personal responses provoked by the film. Interesting discussions naturally unfolded as most members boasted impressive job descriptions as either activists or independent directors, thus they provided interesting insights and opinions.
For those who missed out this year, watch the film and join us at next year’s event.
FOLLOW ON: http://ff.hrw.org/london
MORE INFO RE: SAUDI ARABIA http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/saudi-arabia