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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Social satire with all-female cast 'Dunya's Day' to be first Saudi film to ever screen at Sundance

'Tired of seeing clichéd narratives of oppression that reduce Arab women to victims or saints, I set out to portray a flawed but fierce Arab woman who is neither': Raed Alsemari's social satire will compete in International Shorts section

Sara Balghonaim as Dunya. Photo Olivier Theurillat
Sara Balghonaim as Dunya. Photo Olivier Theurillat

Raed Alsemari’s Dunya’s Day will be the first Saudi film ever to screen at the Sundance Film Festival when it competes in the International Shorts section in January 2019.

The satire, featuring an all-female cast, deals with a rich Saudi student who attempts to throw the perfect graduation ball by herself after her domestic staff abandon her, sick of their ma’am’s behaviour, and takes a wry look at the kingdom’s rigid class structure.

Alsemari says: “At its core, Dunya’s Day is about a woman’s relentless pursuit of status. Tired of seeing clichéd narratives of oppression that reduce Arab women to victims or saints, I set out to portray a flawed but fierce Arab woman who is neither.”

The director looked to some cult Hollywood favourites when he was writing the script for his movie: “While developing the central characters, it was exciting to draw from the archetypes of classic comedies like Heathers and Mean Girls, and to re-imagine those personalities in my hometown,” he says. “From Riyadh to Brooklyn, I’ve encountered women and men who share Dunya’s obsessive need for social validation. Over time, I’ve learned to understand their motivations and – on some level – to admire their tenacity.”

Alsemari even admits that there may be a little bit of Dunya in himself, although he concedes that his central character is, ultimately, utterly unlikeable: “I wanted to ensure that my satirical approach would not compromise the character’s humanity. After committing to an ‘un-likable’ protagonist, I worried about finding a performer who would internalize Dunya’s wants and insecurities without judgement. My doubts instantly disappeared when I saw Sara Balghonaim’s layered and loving take on the character.”

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Read more:

Saudi censors pass 'The Message' – Kuwait initially bans the film

Saudi cinema: Everything we know so far