Playing exclusively at Cinema 21 is "Wadjda" (Saudi Arabia, 2012) a critically-acclaimed and award-winning film. This film opens our eyes to the budding movement for freedom and equality in Saudi Arabia. This patriarchal country forbids women driving cars among a host of other social restrictions.
So it is refreshing to see a film by a Saudi Arabian woman filmmaker (Haifaa Al Mansour) directing her first feature film in Saudi Arabia about 10-year-old girl Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) breaking taboos about girls. And think about this: this film is produced and filmed in a country with no movie theaters.
In a recent NPR interview, Director Haifaa Al Mansour explains that she is painting a realistic picture of the people of her country. All men are not oppressors and all women are not victims, and she wants "Nadjda" to reflect that. By focusing on a young girl with dreams to own and ride a green bicycle, there is a spirit of fresh air wafting throughout.
Here's a fascinating quote from the NPR interview on the difficulties the director had shooting.
"Saudi is segregated, and women are not supposed to be outside, and all that. So whenever we would shoot our outdoor scenes, I would be in a van, and I would sit with a walkie-talkie and a monitor.... It was tough; it was very frustrating to be in that confined space. But it was rewarding."
Another fascinating aspect about this powerful film is that at its heart it has a positive message. Girls and women can create change. Boys and men can be supportive of the quest for freedom. A warm relationship develops between Wadjda and another young person, Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). He, of course, is allowed to ride a bicycle and understands the joy that her dream represents.
This is a break-through film, and it is screening around the country. It also has screened at numerous film festivals, including Tribeca and Telluride. "Wadjda" has been nominated for almost two dozen awards and has won 16 to date. These include the Muhr Arab Award at the Dubai International Film Festival for Best Feature Actress (Waad Mohammed) and Best Feature Film, the Gold Guild Film Award for Best Foreign Film at the Guild of German Art House Cinemas, the Most Popular International First Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and the Best International Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Tickets range from $6 to $8.50. Screenings are daily at 4:30 pm and 6:45 pm, plus Sunday's at 2:15 pm. For more information, check out Cinema 21's website.