Model, filmmaker, ambassador, muse… Above all, Farida Khelfa is a storyteller and ally of women. Self-described as perennially curious, Khelfa traveled to Jeddah five years ago with Vogue Italia for a fashion design competition. Amid light chatter, an inquisitive Khelfa found herself intrigued by “these stunning young women.” She recalls, “They were so focused and decisive. They had factories in Portugal. We’ve never heard about any of this. We hear plenty about the oppressed Arab woman, but never about these women in front of me.” A year later, following an invitation to Dubai fashion week, she decided to share her learnings with the world. Following the documentaries A Tunisian Youth and one on Christian Louboutin, the wheels were in motion for a new documentary signed Farida Khelfa; one that would shine the light on Arab women of the creative scene that was fascinating her.
“At the outset, I wanted to highlight women in fashion only. Then, I returned to Saudi Arabia for an evening and that’s when I discovered Manal AlDowayan and understood that there was also a thriving artistic scene,” she says. Via word-of-mouth, Khelfa traveled between Saudi, Qatar, and the UAE, interviewing 12 women on film. Featured are writer Amal Alharbi; CEO Baheirah Khusheim; the dancer and photographers Ansam & Anhar; chef Noura Al Moammar; designers Faiza Bouguessa and Wadha Al Hajri; artists Fatima AlBanawi, Ghadah Al Rabee, Manal Al Dowayan, and Sophia Al-Maria; Nayla Ahmad and students from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar; CEO Baheira Khusheim; and Doha Film Institute CEO Fatma Al Remaihi.
If there were moments when Khelfa posited why the occidental world closed their eyes and ears to these women’s success, she puts it down to fear. “The fear of the unknown can lead one to create an imaginary world. The reality is that we women are all the same. We all want to have children or not have children. We want to work. We have aspirations and dreams. We are very close. But when we don’t know something, we prefer to exclude it.” Khelfa conceived, interviewed, and produced the 12-part documentary De l’autre côté du voile (From the Other Side of the Veil). She will release the interviews in democratic fashion, via her YouTube channel, launching this month, stating that her wish is to start a conversation and keep it going. “It’s important that everyone can see it, but also comment, and share.”
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia