Introducing Shahad Ameen: The Saudi Female Filmmaker You Should Know

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Flashing lights on a red carpet, parting velvet curtains, and glittering dresses that sparkle to the beat of music – the Dubai International Film Festival is finally back. In its 12th year running, the festival has become an important platform for emerging talent in the local film industry and a glitzy affair on an international scale. Whether you’re just hoping for a glimpse of Jake Gyllenhaal at the opening party or have compiled a researched list of Emirati short films to watch every day of the festival, DIFF is a must-visit on Dubai’s social calendar.

Ahead of the opening day tomorrow, Savoir Flair sits down for a tête-à-tête with Saudi filmmaker and director Shahad Ameen. Ameen returns to DIFF this year with Scales, a fantasy feature film shortlisted for the prestigious IWC Filmmaker Award, which grants the winner USD 100,000 and a serious accolade in film after review by an all-star jury that has included the likes of Cate Blanchett and Emily Blunt in the past. Her last film, Eye & Mermaid, was nominated for Best Short Film at the Stockholm Film Festival, and this year Ameen is hoping for the win.

Read on for this young filmmaker’s thoughts on creativity in film, red carpet etiquette, and even selfies with celebrities.

INTERVIEW WITH Shahad Ameen
A still from Ameen's Eye & Mermaid

How did it feel to be nominated for the IWC Filmmaker Award?
It was very exciting to hear the news! In the past three years, IWC has nominated great films with a completely different take on story lines. They are committed to making very unique films and I’m very glad that Scales is now among them. This nomination will open up very different doors for the movie and will place it at the heart of a very prestigious festival – DIFF. The nomination gave me a big push and it’s nice to hear that the script is being represented by IWC and DIFF.

This is your second time participating in DIFF. What do you love most about the festival?
I’m very excited to be back at DIFF, because there is such a great range of films here – too many interesting ones to count! It’s also an unparalleled chance for me to be with like-minded filmmakers whom I look forward to meeting again or getting to know, which always results in great conversations about cinema and the industry.

What inspired the story behind your project, Scales?
Scales gave me the opportunity to blur the lines of fantasy and that is something I enjoy doing. It’s about a pre-teen mermaid who is hunted, but free… In Scales, I wanted to explore the contradictions between belonging and freedom, between traditions and revolution, and attempt in my own way to reconcile the two. I wish to use the element of fantasy in a way that has never been done in Arabic cinema before with an elegant subtlety that will allow the audience to soar within their own imaginations.

What other films are you excited about seeing at DIFF?
I’m very excited about the Muhr Gulf Short competition. The industry here is growing very quickly and I’m hoping to see very high-quality films coming from young filmmakers in this region. It’s always nice to be at DIFF as you get a unique insight into Khaleeji cinema. There are films that you might not be able to watch anywhere else and they highlight the jump that we, as filmmakers, have taken in the last couple of years.

Was there a film that made you want to become a filmmaker when you were young?
There isn’t one film in particular, but I always felt the need to contribute to an art that is lacking in man power. I felt the need to tell visual stories from my experiences and my surroundings, as I believe films are a record of our emotional experience as humans and we are in great need of being in touch with our emotions – I believe films can provide us with this platform.

I believe films are a record of our emotional experience as humans.

Who are your favorite designers to wear on the red carpet?
I like to mix it up and have many options in my closet to choose from, although I do tend to go shopping at the last minute for big occasions like this!

Selfies with celebrities – yes or no?
I think no. The best thing for me is to appear professional as a director, so I look forward to having good conversations with any celebrity if I can, rather than taking a picture!

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