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Saudi film writer Shahad Ameen on her way to conquer the world
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 07 - 03 - 2015

Short movie Eye & Mermaid screened at major international film festival

Selma Roth
Saudi Gazette

Saudi film director and scriptwriter Shahad Ameen knew from a very young age that she wanted to become a writer. Born and raised in Jeddah, at the age of 11, Ameen discovered the “magic of cinema,” as she words it herself, and decided she wanted to be part of this world, despite the lack of a cinema culture here.
After completing high school, Ameen went to London to study video production and art studies at the Met Film School, in which she obtained a bachelor's degree.
“I worked for a while as an assistant director, but then I completed a degree in screenwriting in New York,” relates Ameen, who has been a full-time writer and director ever since.
Her short films include “The Glass Box” and “Leila's Window”. While fairly successful, Ameen's latest short, “Eye & Mermaid”, could be her real, international breakthrough. Premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2013, the film was also screened during this month's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), a major event that is widely recognized as the most important film festival after Cannes.
However, though Ameen, whom we spoke to prior to the festival, says she is “thrilled to have Eye & Mermaid screening at TIFF,” she tries not to focus on the number of visitors or viewers. “I just hope that people enjoy the film.”
Eye & Mermaid
The title may sound fairylike, but Eye & Mermaid is in fact a phantasy drama about Hanan, a fisherman's daughter who adores the black pearls her father brings her from the sea.
Curious to find out where these beautiful pearls are coming from, one day she follows her father and his crew to find out that they are actually aggressively extracted from mermaids.
Seeing her father treating a creature so similar to her in appearance with such cruelty is a big shock for the little girl. Once she grows up, Hanan tries to find a way to free herself from the pains and traditions of the past.
Ameen: “The original title is in Arabic [Huriya wa Aen] and it has a familiar sound. The title can mean so many different things in Arabic and each person can draw their own conclusion about its meaning after watching the film.”
A full feature film
Eye & Mermaid was financed with the support of the Hazawi Fund, an initiative by the Doha Film Institute that aims at promoting film production in Qatar and the region.
The institute also contributed on the creative side by providing production mentors and the cinematographer.
Recently, Ameen received the opportunity to develop a feature film based on Eye & Mermaid. She finished writing the script and is now focusing on developing the movie, which will be titled “Scales”.
It is clear we are going to hear more about this Saudi screenwriter and director, who thinks the current international interest in Saudi directors – or female voices in general – is natural: “We were almost silent up till now, so I do believe that the world wants to hear the filmmakers' voices and wants to see their vision, because it's new and different.”
However, Ameen does not see the increasing competition in the Saudi film industry as a threat: “A film industry isn't built on solely one person.
It's incredible that we have a couple of female filmmakers, but I'm hoping to see hundreds of them in the near future and I think it will generate a healthy competition and an industry for us to work in.”
Recurrent themes
While it is easy to relate main character Hanan to the average Saudi girl, Ameen herself actually grew up in a very liberated family in Jeddah.
Nevertheless, as a Saudi or even an Arabic woman, she is aware that she is always seen as “The Other” wherever she travels to. Not surprisingly, this is a repeated theme in her work.
On the one hand, Hanan is a girl who thinks outside the box and does not blindly follow what others tell her to do. She could be seen as The Other in this sense.
On the other hand, the film clearly questions us how we deal with The Other, in this case the mermaid. Do we confront and fight what is unknown to us, or do we approach it respectfully? If we choose to do the latter, we may find out The Other is not that different from us, after all.
“The premise and themes repeat themselves in most of the short films I made,” explains Ameen. “I like to ask questions about childhood, identity and memories, and I don't believe that the job of the filmmaker requires answers of the questions they raised.”
Rather, the Saudi writer's intention is to bring the viewer closer to the story, “so that they too can feel that they are part of the creation of the story.”
In Eye & Mermaid, Hanan's curiosity and independence lets her find out something she would perhaps rather not know – that something she loves so dearly may come at a terrible cost.
Simultaneously, the mermaid herself – according to Ameeen “inspired by a folk story about the creation of the first mermaid, who was a goddess in a former life” – could be seen as “a metaphor for Arab women who refuse to be tamed,” the Saudi filmmaker describes it.
“The notion of such a mermaid fascinated me,” Ameen affirms, saying that the inspiration process is always very vague for her.
“I normally receive some kind of an idea from my surroundings and then I develop the concept until it becomes a complete story.”

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