As Saudi Arabia moves towards a more inclusive and less restrictive society, the transformation is becoming most apparent in its nascent filmmaking industry. Ever since the 35-year-old ban on public cinemas was lifted, the country has started making its presence felt in the international film festival circuit, from Cannes to Sundance to the ongoing Berlinale, and the charge is being led by the kingdom's women filmmakers.
Saudi Arabia has more female filmmakers than male with some estimates putting the ratio of women at 60 percent. The first project to receive investment from its film fund was Saudi Arabia's first female director Haifaa Al Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate. 'Dunya’s Day', the first Saudi film to be screened in the Kingdom features an all-female cast, created further history last week, winning recognition at the Sundance film festival.
Raed Alsermari’s satire won the short film jury prize for international fiction in Sundance, marking Saudi Arabia's first appeareance at the indie film festival with success. Dunya’s Day made history earlier this month as the first Saudi film ever to premiere in the Kingdom, as well as becoming the first Saudi film to be selected for screening at the Sundance Film Festival, where it competed in the International Shorts section.
The social satire deals with a rich Saudi student who abandoned by her domestic help fights to throw the perfect graduation soirée. The satire starring Sara Balghonaim as the title character Dunya, is a witty look at the social insecurities of the kingdom’s rigid class structure.
Alsermari says, "At its core, “Dunya’s Day” is about a woman’s relentless pursuit of status. Tired of seeing clichéd narratives of oppression that reduce Arab women to victims or saints, I set out to portray a flawed but fierce Arab woman who is neither. From Riyadh to Brooklyn, I’ve encountered women and men who share Dunya’s obsessive need for social validation."