Documentary filmmaker Olga Sapozhinkove is to make UAE women the focus of her next work.
Russian director uncovers 'mystery' of Arab women
ABU DHABI // Many outside the Arab world might look at a women dressed head to toe in black and see only mystery. But to the Russian filmmaker, Olga Sapozhnikova, the abaya helps reveal an abundance of important stories.
Ms Sapozhnikova, 37, mainly focuses on women in her documentary films. And Emirati women were a natural fit, she said.
She kicked off her career in 2006 with the film Hareem, which means "women" in Arabic.
The film features five Emirati women, including the actress Samira Ahmad and the film director and writer Maha Gargash, and aired on the Russian TV channel RTR.
"Russian women were very interested in the topic, because they have no info about [Emirati women]," she said. "It is normal for people to misunderstand women in abayas, but once you meet them, you respect them, and you discover they are very happy."
Ms Sapozhnikova returned two years later to do another film about women in the UAE, this time including expatriates.
The 2008 production Hidden Beauty shows women from different nationalities and occupations, and looks at Arab women from their perspective.
The central figures include a Saudi single mother of three who created a career instead of going back to live in her wealthy father's palace; an Emirati woman who dedicated her life to treating the wounded, a paramedic team leader known as "Mother Ambulance"; and a Finnish woman who admires the Arab lifestyle. The film was screened in Los Angeles and Montreal.
Yaroslava Stukalo, the president of the Russian Social Club in Dubai, said that before moving to the UAE, she knew Sapozhnikova through her films back in Russia, which were broadcast many times on prime channels.
The films helped Mrs Stukalo understand the lives of women before moving here to mix with Emirati women and become friends with them. She said she discovered many similarities between the two cultures.
"What I find very similar is that we have the same problem; family and husband are number one. Yes, we can have our own interest, our own friendship, but family and people are the priority," she said.
Sapozhnikova's films also extend to humanitarian work as her film Fatima helped the titular figure receive a new wheelchair.
Fatima Al Minhali, a mother of three, artist, fashion designer and athlete, said the film inspired many.
"The film tells people, look what I did, I'm in a wheelchair and a mother and multitalented," Mrs Al Minhali said.
"It tells society, 'Don't put the handicapped on the side; look what they did in the chair'. Normal people don't do this much.
"If the normal mother struggles 100 times in raising her children, I suffer a million times more."
Other films in the pipeline include Russian Cinderella, which features Russian women who were poor, but after moving to the UAE and marrying, started living a luxurious life.
"People think it is very easy, but it is not, they had to study a lot; how to speak, how to cook, the traditions, how to live. It is not a miracle," Sapozhnikova said. Another film will feature cross-cultural women in the UAE and the differences in a day in their lives.
The film will feature women from Japan, Sweden, Russia, America and an Arab country.