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Acclaimed Saudi filmmaker to enter Hollywood with new film - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour (R) with lead actress Waad Mohammed on the red carpet at Venice Film Festival. (Reuters)

Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour, right, with lead actress Waad Mohammed on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. (Reuters)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—After the great success of her feature film, Wadjda, which won a number of international prizes, Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour returns with a new film that is full of surprises. Mansour’s new film, A Storm in the Stars will be the filmmaker’s first Hollywood production—a step Mansour described as a “dream come true.”

A Storm in the Stars, which tells the story of the 19th-century British novelist Mary Shelley, will mark a shift in Mansour’s Saudi Arabia-focused cinematic career.

So how did the US producer manage to convince the Saudi director to work on a film about the life of Mrs. Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, especially since her audience expects her next project to be about Saudi Arabia?

“I hope to direct a Saudi film, and in fact I am currently writing the script of a new film that will be produced by Rotana and Razor Film Produktion. But the American producer Amy Bauer contacted me and wanted me to direct this film which has a similar story to Wadjda,” Mansour told Asharq Al-Awsat in exclusive comments.

“The film is about a young girl, Mary Shelley, who dreams of writing a novel and express herself in a tough and conservative society. I have read Emma Jensen’s script and I loved it and the character of Mary Shelley, who defied society in order to write her Frankenstein novel,” she added.

According to Mansour, who is in process of casting actors, another thing that attracted her to the film is that Shelley wrote a sci-fi novel, not a romance.

As for the actress she hopes to cast in the role, Mansour said: “We still do not know [who we’ll cast], as we are still on the lookout. The actress has to be around the same age as Shelley, who was 16 years old when she fell in love with the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and wrote her sci-fi novel at the age of 18.”

“Personally speaking, I imagine the young actress Elle Fanning in the role. But it depends on the actress’s command of the British accent,” she added.

It is also noteworthy that the film is a woman-led production, given that it will be produced, written, directed and acted by women, which Mansour says she considers a kind of “support and empowerment of women.”

“From the minute I read the script, I was hoping to find a female director who would realize what Emma was trying to say—that Mary Shelley’s story is as much about female empowerment and about a woman ahead of her time, and not just a ‘monster’ origin story,” Deadline London quoted Bauer as saying.

Mansour has been recently on a visit to Los Angeles to attend the Spirit Awards 2014 ceremony, where Wadjda was nominated for the Best First Feature award. Despite being nominated by Saudi Arabia for the Foreign Language Category, Wadjda did not make it to the official Oscar nominations.

“Perhaps next time I will be able to attend the Oscar ceremonies as a nominee,” said Mansour.

As for her next Saudi film, Mansour said not all the details are clear yet, but the film will “take place in Saudi Arabia, but not about women this time, rather about young men and the problems they face in achieving their dreams.”

“This time I will jump to the other side and deal with men’s world in this film,” Mansour said, adding as she laughed, “we will see what happens.”

With her first film to receive international attention and her first time on a film jury, for the Debut Features award at Venice, Mansour entered the limelight in full force in 2013. When asked how she would describe her sudden rise to international acclaim, Mansour answered with one word: “Surreal.”

“It is an amazing feeling. It is unbelievable. For example, I have recently had dinner with Cate Blanchett—an actress whom I [dreamed of seeing], let alone having dinner with. It was amazing the appreciation I received from international filmmakers. Everyone liked Wadjda and her bicycle. I am grateful for this movie, which introduced me to the world, and I hope it will mark the major start of my cinematic career. But I also know that I have to work hard and do my best to achieve the success I hope for,” she added.

Manour attracted international attention with Wadjda, co-produced by Rotana and Germany’s Razor Film Produktion. It was awarded more than 18 international prizes and was nominated for the BAFTA Awards, as well as being the first film Saudi Arabia nominated for an Academy Award.