Haifaa al-Mansour Venice Film Festival 2019
La Biennale di Venezia
During last year’s Cannes Film Festival, in May of 2018, something magical happened. And no, it didn’t involve special gala screenings, interview junkets with mega stars or even lavish parties on the Croisette. It was instead the signing of a single paper, the Pledge for “50/50 by 2020” and it brought together women in film from all walks of life, nationalities and genres. Spearheaded by then president of the Competition jury, actress Cate Blanchett, women from the world of cinema, including Haifaa al-Mansour and Kirsten Stewart, took over the famous red carpeted steps to pledge transparency and equality in film. In the months that followed major festivals in Venice, Berlin, Locarno, Toronto, Rome, London and Zurich signed the Pledge as well.
Haifaa al-Mansour, Kirsten Stewart, Lea Seydoux; Cannes
This November marks another groundbreaking step in the ladder that women filmmakers have climbed to be able to shatter the powerful glass ceiling in the world of making movies. Cairo International Film Festival has just released an announcement that they will sign the Pledge during their upcoming edition, at the gala screening of Saudi filmmaker Shahad Ameen’s Scales. This makes them the first film festival in the Arab world to do so. And in Africa, only the second, after Durban.
Why is this important? Because while the world sometimes looks to the Region as a place where it may not always be so great to be a woman, those who inhabit it, live a different reality every day. In fact, if we compare Hollywood to the Arab cinema industry, here women filmmakers make up nearly 50 percent of the total numbers — compared to only about 5 percent in the US and 12 percent in Europe.
Shahad Ameen on set
When Harper’s BAZAAR Arabia caught up with Ameen, the award winning filmmaker addressed the disparity by pointing out, “if you consider the industry in the US or in Europe, you don’t see as many women as you see in the Region, or in developing countries. I feel that women in this Region were always told they couldn’t do it, they weren’t taken seriously and men, in male dominated societies had so many privileges.” She continued that filmmaking “was definitely the women’s way of proving themselves, This is proving that women have taken very serious action in measuring themselves in their careers. Women have been silenced for so many years and the voices that are coming out from the Region are so unique. They are new!”
Saudi Director Shahad Ameen at the Venice Film Festival alongside actors
The “50/50 by 2020” organization was started in the US by well known names like Natalie Portman, Lupita Nyong'o and America Ferrera, along with female producers, writers and agents and is an intersectional power movement in arts and entertainment. Delphyne Besse for Collectif 50/50 of their French counterpart said, in a press release about this latest announcement, “we’re extremely happy that Cairo International Film Festival has decided to sign the Pledge, showing their attachment to the issue of equality and inclusion in the Arab region. We hope many other festivals in the region will follow their lead.”
With the signing of this paper, Cairo Film Fest president Mohamed Hefzy and all the directors and programmers of the festival pledge that by its 42nd edition in November 2020, they are committed to promote gender equality and transparency and will publicly announce the percentages of women participating in the film programming and selection teams, in addition to the percentage of films submitted by woman directors and the ones selected in the official program. Hefzy pointed to the need for such initiatives, “if festivals made more effort towards parity, it will encourage more producers to give female filmmakers the same opportunities afforded to males.”
Cairo International Film Festival President, Mohamed Hefzy
Himself a champion of women filmmakers, having produced such gems as Ayten Amin’s Villa 69 and the upcoming much anticipated Luxor by Zeina Durra, he also addressed his choice by telling Harper’s BAZAAR Arabia “I have worked with women filmmakers many times in my career, many of whom were making their first film. I never consciously make a choice depending on the gender of the filmmaker, but it just so happens that there are many great stories waiting to be told by talented female filmmakers.”
Ameen pointed out that “it’s very exciting to be a woman filmmaker in the Region right now. There are a lot of stories that we haven’t explored for years and now we have the opportunity to explore. And more so, now people are actually interested in listening to our side of the story, whereas before they might not have been as much.”
Have initiatives like “50/50 by 2020 helped? Ameen explained from her unique point of view, “right now with the MeToo movement, it’s not just the Region but everywhere in the world, people are more interested in listening to women’s voices and that’s very exciting. I do feel this comes with a responsibility, being a female filmmaker from this Region, a responsibility towards your story and your characters. Towards your experience being a woman in the Region, towards how you show the experience, how you translate it to the screen, because it’s a very raw industry and it’s a very new one, so we need to be very honest with the stories we are trying to tell.”
5050 by 2020 in Cannes
And finally, could this pledge favor too much quantity over quality when it comes to women filmmakers? Ameen answered with a question: “How do you know if your film is good enough — is it in because it’s directed by a woman, or is it in because the quality of it is good? I always feel that,” letting out a giggle before continuing, “forever, men have been enjoying the privilege of being men — their stories, their films were out there because it was directed by a man. So I do feel it’s unfair at times, because it’s like a race and they started the race years before us, and we need, you know, a little push. An initiative like this is that push.”
The 41st Cairo International Film Festival will run from the 20th to the 29th November, 2019.
For more information on "5050by2020" click here