Saudi Arabia‘s new national film organization, the Saudi Film Council, was established in March as a platform to nurture creative talent in the kingdom. The first production it will be supporting? Haifaa Al Mansour‘s The Perfect Candidate. With the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival currently underway, the newly-minted organization announced that it will be backing the Wadjda director’s upcoming feature film, which will be shot in Riyadh next month.
The Perfect Candidate tells the story of a young female physician with political ambitions in a male-dominated society, who runs for municipal office while her father is away touring the country. The movie will be co-produced by Al Mansour Productions in Saudi Arabia and Berlin’s Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul of Razor Film Produktion (who also helped produce her breakout film, Wadjda).
Al Mansour has shattered her fair share of glass ceilings. In 2012, the director made history as the first female Saudi filmmaker with the award-winning Wadjda— about a young, Saudi girl who wants to ride a bicycle in her country but isn’t allowed— which was the first feature length film to be shot entirely in the conservative Gulf country. It was also the first production from the kingdom to be submitted for Academy Awards consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Though it didn’t snag an Oscar, the highly-acclaimed movie won numerous awards at film festivals across the globe, including the Muhr Arab Award at the Dubai International Film Festival and the CinemAvvenire, C.I.C.A.E., and Interfilm Awards at the Venice International Film Festival.
However Mansour believes her experience shooting The Perfect Candidate will be vastly different to that of Wadjda. “When I started making films — I started in 2005, when my first short came out — people didn’t believe in cinema in Saudi Arabia,” the director told AFP this week. “But Saudi Arabia has changed. It will be wonderful to be part of the evolution of film in the country.” Setting her work in her home country is a cause close to Mansour’s heart, who added to AFP that “it is very important to make films there, especially with Saudi Arabia embracing films and allowing film theaters”.
Following the success of Wadjda, Al Mansour went on to produce two other features, Mary Shelley (2017), a biopic about the English writer of Frankenstein, and a film adaptation of Trisha R. Thomas’ Nappily Ever After (2018). Today, the director is one of three women on the new 13-member board of the General Authority for Culture, who will oversee artistic development in Saudi Arabia, following the lifting of its 35-year cinema ban last December.