Saudi Arabian director Shahad Ameen’s first feature film ‘Scales’ (Sayidat Al Bahr) will premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, which kicks off next month.
The Image Nation Abu Dhabi supported film — described as a “rare Arab art house feature” — will be part of the festival’s Critics Week competition.
It tells the story of young girl Hayat, who lives in a dystopian landscape and overturns her village’s tradition of sacrificing girls to mysterious creatures living in close by waters.
The film shot in Oman and stars Basima Hajjar as Hayat, Ashraf Barhom, Yagroub Al Farhan and Fatima Al Taei.
Born and raised in Jeddah, Ameen took inspiration from folk tales and the “incredible, rich stories in the Arabic culture.”
“‘Scales’ tells the story of Hayat, who’s 13 — she lives in an island where they rely on mermaid flesh for food. She, herself, is somewhat of a half-mermaid. But in order for her to provide for her family, she has to become the thing which she dislikes, which is a fisherman. She has to find her way back to being a woman, being a mermaid,” said Ameen to Gulf News tabloid! in 2015, when the early script for ‘Scales’ was in contention for the $100,000 (Dh367,248) IWC Filmmaker Award. (The prize later went to Emirati filmmaker Layla Kaylif for her project The Letter Writer.)
“I thought a mermaid is just a great metaphor for the untamed woman, for the woman who chose the road less beaten, for the woman who chose not to stick with traditions, but rather be away at sea, even if she’s going to be prosecuted for it,” said Ameen.
“It’s very important for us to stop victimising women. It’s very important for young girls to have a hero to look up to. It’s the first time ever, I think in cinema, that we’re going to see a 13-year-old Saudi or Khaleeji girl kick [expletive] and be awesome,” she added.
Ameen described the film as magical realism, a genre wherein a single element of fantasy is injected into an otherwise realistic setting — in this case, a “rigid Arabic village.”
It’s unclear whether Ameen’s script has changed since its 2015 iteration, though in a recent announcement, she describes the film as having minimal dialogue and telling “a visceral story about growing up as a woman in a patriarchal society, offering an allegorical take on a universal theme that will resonate with audiences around the world.”
Paul Miller and Stephen Strachan of Abu Dhabi-based Film Solutions and Rula Nasser of Imaginarium Films produce. Mohammad Al Daradji and Majid Al Ansari executive produce.
The 76th edition of the Venice International Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7.