Narrowing the Gulf

On the sidelines of the 11th Dubai International Film festival, three women filmmakers speak about the stories behind their films.

December 20, 2014 05:19 pm | Updated December 22, 2014 02:43 pm IST

Fatima Ali Alhameli in 'Nearby Sky'.

Fatima Ali Alhameli in 'Nearby Sky'.

The just-concluded 11th Dubai International Film Festival (December 10-17, 2014), showcased a number of films by Muslim and Arab filmmakers; although most of these award-winning directors see their films as beyond feminism. Dukhtar  (Daughter, Pakistan) by Afia Nathaniel is based on a true story of a mother rescuing her daughter from being bartered as a child bride to settle a tribal feud in Pakistan. Although Pakistan-born New York-based, Nathaniel herself is a Christian, her film gives voice to Muslim women — and men — in her homeland. Likewise, Khadija al-Salami’s I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced , from Yemen, is also based on a true story. There was Nujoom al-Ghanem’s  Nearby Sky , from the UAE, a wonderful film on the feisty Fatima Ali Alhameli, a lone Bedouin woman camel herder, breaching an all-male bastion. Hind Shoufani’s  Trip Along Exodus , from Palestine, is a creative documentary on Palestine’s history, inspired by her father, a political revolutionary. Excerpts from conversations with the filmmakers:

‘From chaos comes harmony’: Afia Nathaniel, director of  Dukhtar , Pakistan:

It took 10 years to make this film. Nobody wanted to fund a movie about a mother and daughter from Pakistan. (Shrihari Sathe, an Indian filmmaker with offices in New York and Mumbai, is a co-producer). It’s not just a feminist film, but about a mother’s courage. The toughest part was shooting in Gilgit-Baltistan —“Pak-Occupied Kashmir”. If you have a camera, you can be a target for a suicide bomber, as it makes for good headlines! And, on the sets, I was the only woman with a crew of 40 men.

A number of women Pakistani directors — including Sabiha Sumar, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Mehreen Jabbar and Iram Bilal — have broken into the international scene, but that’s hardly the case with male Pakistani directors.

My film was at the Toronto, Busan, London, Dubai, IFFI-Goa and Bengaluru film festivals. It ran for four weeks in Pakistan. We are releasing in the U.K. in March, and looking for distribution in India. In Pakistan, we don’t have restrictions as in Iran or Saudi Arabia, and we are pushing the limits of the stories we can tell. From chaos comes harmony.

‘She shares a pure love with her camels’: Nujoom Alghanem, director of Nearby Sky , UAE:

Filmmaking is about bringing change in society, so I refuse to work for TV. There is no film industry in the UAE; only a TV industry. I studied film in the U.S. and Australia. Filmmaking is like writing poetry, and when I make a film, I work with all my senses.

Fatima (the camel herder) is so tough, working shoulder-to-shoulder with men who are not welcoming. What she has achieved is a miracle. She’s the daughter of a Bedouin nomad. Her parents divorced when she was five, and her father kidnapped her. She’s a strong and angry woman. But what she shares with her camels is a very pure love.  

I was born after four boys and my father was not ready to accept me, so I grew up in my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was violent with me — but I also spent time with my aunt Najat Makki, a painter, with poetry, photographs, reading and music. I am very inspired by her, and by our late UAE President Sheikh Zayed. I’m a filmmaker, not only a feminist. Festivals and funding help all filmmakers emerge, not just women. But it is still not a ‘pinky’ situation.

‘I myself was married at 11’: Khadija al-Salami, director of  I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced , Yemen:

My film is based on a true story. But it is my own story as well. It was my first fiction feature, after 25 documentaries. Europe tends to see us in terms of good guys/bad guys, but I wanted to humanise the ‘bad guys’, who act out of ignorance, poverty or ideas of virginity and honour. Yemen still has no laws against child marriage.

My mother married when she was eight. I myself was married at 11. Earlier, I was a ‘bad example’, I would not wear the veil, I worked and I got a divorce. Now I am a ‘good example’ for some.

I worked with the Yemen government in Paris for years. But fighting is in my blood. I made  The Destructive Beast , on corruption in Yemen.   Killing Her is a Ticket to Paradise  was on an outspoken female journalist.   Amina  was about a woman prisoner, accused of killing her husband, who was sentenced to death. I made these films for Yemen. Now I’d like to make a love story for a change.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, critic, festival curator and journalist.

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