Can you see movies in Saudi Arabia

Berlinale Blogger 2020
"Saudi Runaway": Film not only about Saudi Arabia

The debut film "Raving Iran" (2016) by the German filmmaker Susanne Regina Meures about two young DJs whose passion for electronic music was dampened by the regime's restrictions on freedom was shown at more than 130 film festivals. Her latest documentary "Saudi Runaway", the European premiere of which took place in the Panorama program of the Berlinale, is dedicated to the issue of restricting women's rights in Saudi Arabia. The protagonist Muna, a 26-year-old young woman, can no longer bear the restrictions and decides to secretly leave her own country. The protagonist shot the video material herself with two smartphones and shows the protagonist's everyday life, but also the everyday life of all women in a country where only men have the power to make decisions.

By Ieva Šukytė

Muna sent you the filmed footage. How did you get in contact with her in Saudi Arabia?
I couldn't get an entry visa to Saudi Arabia, but I contacted an activist who runs a secret chat group for women and supports them in a possible escape. I was looking for women who were planning to leave the country. Muna was one of the many women who answered me.
How did you specifically choose Muna from all the women who answered?
In all fairness, there was little difference between them. The stories of all the women who contacted me had a similar scenario: domestic violence, often sexual violence, imprisonment at home, to being totally dependent on a man's permission. Muna's story was very similar to the stories of the other women, except that Muna was ultimately the only one willing to document her escape.
Was the activist you came in contact with the same person who gave her advice in the movie?
Yes, it was the same person. She was in close contact with him and followed his advice.
How did the assembly go? There are also voiceovers in the film.
The assembly process was simple on the one hand, and complicated on the other. It was easy because the meta-level of the dramaturgy was clear from the start, we no longer had to find it in the editing. What was more difficult, however, was the quality and complexity of the lathe material. The images were shaky, the content fragmented. Most of the voiceovers were excerpts from my chats with Muna. During the shoot we chatted for 5 to 6 hours a day and in five weeks these chats turned into 700 pages. But the off-screen comments don't always come from off-screen. Often you can't tell in the film where the protagonist is, very often she whispers into the phone, for example.
In the end, Muna comes to Minsk and in some scenes is filmed by another person. Was that an unknown person or was she met by someone there?
That was me. I met her in Minsk. At the beginning I wanted to introduce another level into the story, but in the end I decided not to.
Differences between the generations are also visible in the film. Muna can no longer live in such a society, her mother deeply wishes for another life, too, but the grandmother tells her granddaughter to be obedient and nice to her husband.
The characters in the film represent very well the different generations in the country and their ties to tradition and values.
It is interesting that the younger son is also beaten by the father. In the film, the boy says he would later take revenge on his father as an adult.
It is difficult to say how events will play out in the future. There are many changes in the country. I hope the changes will already have become a reality when the boy is grown up. Life is not easy for many men and boys either. It is easier for them in many ways because they are in control, but they too are victims of the system. They are locked up too, just in a different cage. But that's another topic. And definitely worth a movie.
The issue of women's rights is particularly important because in many countries women are still not equal. However, we cannot see what is actually happening inside Saudi Arabia. What impact do you expect the film will have?
It's difficult to say. I hope the film will be well received. National Geographic has acquired the film rights for worldwide distribution. This means that the film will have a lot of support in order to reach a wide audience. As for the documentary, the question has always been how far you can go. The film will not be shown in Saudi Arabia, but we know that it will reach the country and the people differently. But basically the film isn't just about Saudi Arabia. It's about a strong woman who has decided to determine her own fate for herself.

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