Canon roundtable with women directors from MENA reveals diverse trends
Canon’s roundtable was made up of women from the film industry who have broken the glass ceiling across the Middle East and Africa, such as the director of advertising, entertainment, documentaries, music videos and CEO of Beyond Studios – Nahla Al Fahad from the United Arab Emirates, Sara Shazli from Egypt who directed the critically acclaimed film Back home and Chioma Ude from Nigeria – the executive director of the International African Film Festival (AFRIFF).
Industry Overview – Opportunities and Challenges
A recent study from Northwestern University, commissioned by the Doha Film Institute in Qatar, found that 26% of independent Arab filmmakers are women. Commenting on the rise of female directors in the Middle East, Nahla Al Fahad said: “It is commendable that the UAE has taken a very positive and balanced approach to gender issues. Men and women have similar opportunities to show off their talent, thus creating a state of balance. There are many different governments as well as private entities and NGOs that are pushing forward to empower women not only in the film industry but in different sectors. This is truly a gradual period for the UAE where platforms such as the Women’s Pavilion and Expo 2020 are highlighting the importance of female representation by raising more awareness about female talent in organizations. creative industries, especially in film, as well as celebrating women entrepreneurs.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Nigeria alone produces around 2,500 films per year, making it a hotbed of opportunity for budding talent. Commenting on the Nigerian film landscape, Chioma Ude said, “The future of women in the Nigerian film industry is undoubtedly bright, you have to hurry, but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. At present, the Nigerian film industry is growing more and more with several female filmmakers in the lead. Currently, the ratio of women to men working in industry is close to 60:40, but it has not been easy. Looking at Nigeria in the 90s, most of the women working in the industry were hired as actresses and there were only a handful who wanted to get into filmmaking. There was also an issue regarding equal pay for women working in the film industry at the time as things started to change globally. Luckily, there was a sudden boom in the oil industry in Nigeria around this time, which meant that most men wanted to change gears and move into the big, lucrative industry of the time. As a result, women quickly understood, valued and predicted the greatness of the Nigerian film industry and its bright future, taking center stage again. It is for these reasons that we consider the Nigerian film industry to be a forward thinking industry. “
As the UAE and Nigeria move forward on women’s empowerment path, Sara Al Shazli paints a different picture of the Egyptian film industry: “Even though Egypt has the largest commercial film market in Egypt , the share of opportunities for women is considerably low. However, things are changing now with more and more women coming to the fore to share their stories and show their creativity through the channel of cinema. Slowly but surely people are realizing the importance of gender equality in Egypt and women are being offered opportunities that would have been completely unattainable in the past. This is of course a good start, I encourage women not to be discouraged by the past but to move forward, to have confidence in themselves, in their scripts and in their work and not to forget the power of networking. We can achieve great things if we come together to empower each other by sharing our knowledge and resources.
Breaking down stereotypes
While the Covid-19 pandemic has shaken most industries around the world, the creative spirit of all the panelists was not deterred. Nahla Al Fahad referred to 2020 as her most productive year when she made her next film 218, while Chioma Ude noted that she has resorted to writing various scripts which are now turned into films. . The pandemic did not dampen Sara Al Shazli’s morale, she went to create her critically acclaimed documentary Back home during the filming of the pandemic each passing day of lockdown, thus capturing the effect of the pandemic in his day to day life. The panelists then discussed the importance of breaking down stereotypes in the industry and further advancing the path of equal representation. Sara commented, “I didn’t consciously portray women’s struggles or stories in my films, I wanted to share stories that I witnessed on my trip without really knowing I was talking about empowering women, but I think that’s the beauty of it all, to spark a conversation about change and empowerment.
Importance of thought-provoking group discussions
Echoing Sara’s tone, Chioma added, “As a filmmaker you don’t always do things consciously to make a point because like everyone else it’s our job that we do. But by attending these sessions like the one created by Canon, not only do we realize the impact we can make as filmmakers, but also the role we can play in empowering other women. By participating in such conversations, I now realize that as a filmmaker and director of a film festival, I have an extremely powerful responsibility on my shoulders to support the dreams of other women who want to pursue filmmaking. It is through such efforts that we can come together to make a meaningful difference in society. Nahla Al Fahad agreed and commented: “I couldn’t agree more with Chioma, these discussions not only make us aware of our responsibility, but also lead to ideas on how we can empower ourselves. each other.
Social Media – An Indispensable Marketing Tool
It is impossible to deny the impact of social media in our lives, especially in the post-pandemic era. Nahla Al Fahad commented, “The power of social media should be harnessed by every filmmaker, whether you like it or not. An interesting aspect of social media that still remains underutilized is crowdfunding, aspiring filmmakers should look into these innovative tools to promote their work. Adding further, Chioma said, “Nigeria is an extremely social media driven country and so filmmakers absolutely cannot risk ignoring this element in their marketing plans. Although it may seem difficult at first, it opens up a lot of doors for you. My advice would be for everyone to explore the benefits of social media without overwhelming themselves. Sara agreed with her counterparts in Dubai and Nigeria about using social media to promote and showcase your talent and work to the world.