Arab women producers talk about new projects focusing on women’s stories

“I don’t call them challenges, I call them a part of life that makes us stronger,” Egyptian producer Shahinaz Elakkad says of the obstacles faced in succeeding as a producer in the Arab world.

Elakkad’s positive attitude speaks volumes about what it takes to be successful as a producer operating in a region where women’s equality lags behind that of the West.

It is not surprising that his films have appeared in numerous festivals, including “Plumes” by Omar El Zohairy, which has won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix de la Semaine de la Critique in Cannes and the FIPRESCI Prize in Cannes.

Elakkad was one of four producers invited to speak on Thursday’s “It’s a Woman’s World!” A panel with pioneer producers from the Arab world. The region’s only leading festival ended in the Egyptian capital on Sunday.

In an interview with Variety, Elakkad and fellow panelist Rula Nasser from Jordan discussed past experiences and talked about upcoming projects and breaking through the celluloid ceiling.

Elakkad’s recent production credits include “Daughters of Abdul-Rahman”, which performed in competition at the Cairo Film Festival. Directed by Zaid Abuhamdan, the film is about women making difficult choices in a patriarchal society. After its Cairo slot, the film stars this week in the Arab Spectacular section of Red Sea. The section is aimed at the female Saudi audience.

Many other films made with the participation of his company Lagoonie Film Production have also seen recent success on the festival circuit.

His co-production “Huda’s Salon” by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad opens the main section of the Red Sea competition on Tuesday. The film, set in Bethlehem, tells the story of two women who fight for their freedom. In search of a haircut, one is betrayed at a local salon and bought from the opposition.

Elakkad produced the Egyptian ensemble feature “Bara El Manhag”, which closes the Red Sea. The story follows a 13-year-old orphan who confronts his fear of haunted houses by entering a near his school.

She was also co-producer of the buzz track “Amira” by Mohamad Diab, who performed in Venice. The film tells the story of a 17-year-old who sets off in search of her real father, after believing that she was conceived thanks to the sperm of an imprisoned man whom she supposed to be her father. “Amira” is Jordan’s selection for the Oscars this year.

Elakkad is now working on a number of upcoming films with established and novice directors. This includes an adaptation of a best-selling Egyptian book by Ihsan Abdel Quddous, who was “known as the best writer on the feelings of women,” she said. Hadi El Bagoury (“Full Moon”) is the director.

Her other upcoming projects include a feature film with actress and director Sarah Noah (“Apple of My Eyes”), which is about three women and is written by Ingy El Kassem (“Eugenie Nights”), she says. It is in development, and is not yet sunk. “The three stars are middle aged wives and mothers. We’re going to look at it from the point of view of being a woman and what she needs, not just having all the responsibilities on her head, ”she says.

In development, a project by new director Mavie Maher, “Fragile”, tells the story of an Egyptian woman in an abusive marriage. She wants a divorce, but her conservative Islamist parents side with her with her husband who prevents her from keeping their 6-year-old daughter.

“‘Fragile’ is about a young woman from a conservative society who decides on behalf of her granddaughter not to be in the same restrictive loop as she is so she fights,” Elakkad explains.

Meanwhile, Nasser is now preparing to shoot a feature film in the making with first director / screenwriter Amjad Al Rasheed. “It’s a Boy” has been in the works for a few years.

“We’ve been trying to develop this story for a while because it’s tricky how much you have to protect your female protagonist in order for the story to work for audiences. The story can fall apart if the audience doesn’t sympathize with its story, ”she said.

The film has received support from Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, she said. It will feature Mouna Hawa (“Between the Two”). The film is being prepared for shooting in Jordan at the end of January.

“It is a project which addresses one of the major problems of women, which is the right of inheritance. It is told through the journey of Nawal who loses her husband and thinks she will lose her house because she has no sons, which is Sharia law for inheritance, ”she said.

She is also working on several other projects. “I’m known as an executive producer, so my hands are in so many projects in the Arab world, but I also have my own projects,” she says. “If you start producing, you won’t be able to live in peace without him. It’s an addiction that provides a constant adrenaline rush.

She made two films this year. The first film is by Iranian director Ali Abbasi, and is co-produced by Jacob Jarek of Profile Pictures and Sol Bondy of One Two Films in Berlin.

Adel Al Arabi and Bilal Fallah’s second film “Rebel” is “an extremely powerful and nuanced portrait of a family torn apart by the future of a little Muslim boy,” she adds.

She is Jordan’s partner on the two. All the projects are in place and target the niches of the festival to come.

His other recent films include “The Alleys” by Bassel Ghandour, which premiered in Locarno and was screened in Rotterdam, and at many other festivals. The regional premiere will take place at the Red Sea Film Festival this week.

She is also a co-producer of “Amira”.

“We ended this year with a shoot for Channel 4 with ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’, a factual reality show that will air on the BBC and also on Amazon Prime,” she said.

As for being a producer in the region, Nasser says, “I don’t think we have a challenge being a woman in the film industry. Our challenge is how to make movies, and it’s more difficult when movies involve taboos, and part of our big taboos are women’s stories.

She adds, “Our main challenge is how to tell stories as women, that project our little details, and I think part of that is finding female voices away from the big stereotypical female problem that all of it has to offer. the world expects to see it on the big screen. “

Elakkad discovered cinema while working in the tourism industry in Egypt.

“After my studies, I worked with my father. Then I started working in tourism at the age of 28. I really liked what I was doing, until I decided to make a movie. Like everything in my life, I took it very seriously. But when I started studying cinema, and with the first story I decided to film, it was like finding the love of my life. I still enjoy every part and every moment of this job, ”she says.

Before her, she had strong women to admire, notably the Egyptian actress and producer Assia Dagher (1901-1986). “The first Arab producer was Egyptian,” she says. “Egyptian cinema was more daring to discuss women’s issues. Our cinematographic tradition goes back over 125 years.

Elakkad adds: “I was more inspired by the people who couldn’t make it through to the end than the really successful people, the people who couldn’t continue due to work-related stress. There are a lot of things I’m proud of, especially ‘Feathers’ because it got an award for my country, a really big one. I’m not so much a trailblazer as I am doing something I love, ”she says.

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