Haifaa al-Monsour defied all conventions to emerge as the first female filmmaker from Saudi Arabia. Growing up there, she did not even have access to local cinemas. She secretly devoured films at home and found her calling in the process.
Monsour decided to make her first feature, Wadjda, about a young girl coming of age in her home country—a journey to which both she and audiences worldwide could relate. Wadjda is a special, personal story for Mansour, which centers on a young girl who joins her school’s Koran recitation competition in order to raise funds to buy a bicycle. “Bicycle(s) represent so much when it comes to Saudi Arabia; freedom, being on top of everything… Making the film was very challenging. People were scared to come to Saudi Arabia to make a film. I wrote to hundreds of production companies, until one came on board (Razor Films). They were brave.” Upon completion, the film was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Foreign Film and recognized at film festivals globally.
Speaking to al-Monsour, I was immediately struck by both her humility and passion. For her second feature, A Storm in The Stars (featuring Elle Fanning in the title role and Douglas Booth as her beloved, Percy Shelley, alongside Joanne Froggatt, Bel Powley, Maisie Williams, and Tom Sturridge), al-Monsour recognized a similar passion in the novelist Mary Shelley. Another young, brilliant mind best known for writing Frankenstein when she was just eighteen. For her second project, al-Monsour was attracted to similar themes - but was interested in a period film: “Mary (Shelley) was in such a conservative society, yet she was so ahead of her time. And Elle is just an amazing actress.” For aspiring filmmakers Monsour gives this advice: “believe in yourself, find your voice, if something excites you, stick to it… don’t listen to others.” ★