Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories

BY Alex Aubry / Dec 8 2016 / 17:09 PM

Since launching her career in 2005 with a string of highly acclaimed short films, the award-winning Saudi filmmaker continues to open windows onto a region that is often misunderstood by the larger world. Having recently moved to London, Ahd spoke to Bazaar about her career and directorial feature-length debut

Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
Ahd Kamel the first Saudi to graduate with a degree in filmmaking from New York Film Academy, wears a look by Saudi designer Daneh Buahmad
Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
Ahd in New York's Central Park wearing a look by Saudi designer Daneh Buahmad
Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
On the set of Wadjda with Saudi actress Waad Mohammed
Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
On the set of Wadjda with Saudi actress Waad Mohammed and Director Haifaa Al Mansour
Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
On the set of Sanctity
Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
On the set of Sanctity, which she directed and acted in
Saudi Filmmaker Ahd Kamel On Bridging Cultures Through Universal Stories
On the set of Sanctity

On her new film, My Driver & I:

A coming-of-age story, the film revolves around Salma, a privileged and rebellious Saudi girl growing up in the ‘80s -‘90s, and explores her paternal relationship with her African driver, Gamar, who left his family and moved to Jeddah to earn a living. For Ahd, making the semi-autobiographical film was a cathartic experience and an opportunity to shoot in her hometown of Jeddah. “Up to that moment, I never reflected on the impact he had on me even though he taught me a lot of life lessons. It hit me that I had taken this person for granted and that I knew very little about his life.”

On the tradition of storytelling in Arabia:

“My grandmother was the best storyteller there is.  She would tell these epic tales that were so descriptive, because she came from a generation that wasn’t bombarded by visual references like we are today, so she used her imagination to conjure up these worlds.”

On why she established her production company Odd Camel Films:

“Creatively, I’m passionate about all aspects of the filmmaking process, but I began to write out of frustration with a lack of roles. To create my own opportunities I had to have a good script, which is why I established my own production company.”

On being an actor:

“It’s completely different when you are behind the camera. There is a sort of screen that separates you from the audience as a director. But as an actor you’re asked to channel human emotions and experiences on film, which we don’t typically find in conservative societies in the Gulf.”

On supporting regional filmmakers:

“I’m very optimistic. The talent is there and we’ve reached international screens, which shows there is an interest out there for uniquely Gulf stories. But for a credible film industry to emerge in the Gulf, Arabs need to support each other and support filmmakers in the region,” notes Ahd, whose international profile as an actor grew in 2012 with her role in Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour’s film Wadjda.

On using film to explore universal stories:

“Being Saudi also informs my experience in many ways. As artists and filmmakers, we start with what we know in order to use the camera to objectively look for truth in the Arab world. But for me to reach a global audience and grow as an artist, I also have to be able to find humanity in any character and to tell stories that bridge cultures regardless of their origin.”

On the importance of strong female role models:

“Although she came of age at a different time, I would never describe my grandmother as an oppressed woman and this experience wasn’t exclusive to my family in Saudi. Speak to many women in the Gulf and you will find that each has a story to tell about strong female role models in their families who debunk stereotypes.”


Read Alex Aubry’s full interview in the December issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, available on iPad and in-store now.