Sep 1, 2012 / 1:00 pm
Haifaa Al Mansour has the distinction of being the first person to ever film a movie in Saudi Arabia, never mind that she's a woman.
Al Mansour's "Wadjda," which premiered this week out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, is about a 10-year-old girl who dreams of having a bicycle so she can race a neighbourhood boy.
But the dream is just a little too subversive for a deeply conservative Muslim society where women live segregated existences and girls around Wadjda's age are expected to begin fully covering their faces when in public.
"I feel so proud honestly to have shot the first film ever to be shot inside Saudi Arabia," Al Mansour told The Associated Press.
"It was an extremely difficult experience, but still it's very rewarding and it says tha Saudi Arabia is opening up, and there is a place for arts to grow, and there is a place for women."
Despite having support within the Saudi royal family, Al Mansour said she had to cope with limits present within society.
For example, there are severe restrictions on the mingling of unrelated men and women, creating challenges in directing male actors, especially in outdoor scenes.
"I had to stay in a van and talk through a telephone sometimes or through the producer," she told a news conference.
The movie offers a rare and perhaps even unprecedented look into Saudi daily life.
Wadjda lives alone with her mother, played by Reem Abdullah, and they are visited only sometimes by her father. Devoted as he appears in person, he is seeking a second wife to have a son, a source of stress for Wadjda's mother.
Wadjda is as unfazed by the family drama as her mother is distracted by it.
The girl instead focuses on how she can get enough money, 800 Saudi riyals, or $213, to buy a green bicycle from a nearby store, despite being repeatedly told that girls do not ride bikes.
But Al Mansour also elegantly underlines the unique plight of girls when a classmate of Wadjda's pulls out photographs of her own wedding from her Quran during religion class. The teacher smiles, simply asks the groom's age, 20, and kindly tells the girl that photos are not allowed in school.
Al Mansour sought producers from outside the region, and chose a German production company, Razor Studios, that had worked on Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad's "Paradise Now" and Israeli director Ari Folman's "Waltz with Bashir," both of which won Golden Globes for best foreign film.
Matthew Kemp contributed to this report.
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