x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Film lifts the veil on UAE's fighting female police force

Veiled Police, a documentary by a Russian filmmaker, depicts the lives of women in the Abu Dhabi police force.

Ruqaya Al Baloushi, a national judo champion and self-defence trainer at the women's police school, in a scene from Veiled Police.
Ruqaya Al Baloushi, a national judo champion and self-defence trainer at the women's police school, in a scene from Veiled Police.

ABU DHABI // Sumaya Saleh shoots at her target in firearms practice, Ruqaya Al Shehhi treats the wounded at an accident and Ruqaya Al Baloushi punches the air in a judo move.

While it may read like the opening to an episode of Charlie's Angels, these are serious women doing serious jobs with Abu Dhabi Police, and they are about to be introduced to the rest of the world.

Veiled Police, a documentary by the Russian film-maker Olga Sapozhnikova, portrays five women who excel in different fields of the capital's security force.

"I always wondered how can women in abayas slip into uniform and march and bark orders," says Sapozhnikova, 37, who has produced a number of films about women in the UAE and screened them abroad. "That was always a question for me for so long.

"To be in the police they have to be slim, tough; it is a dangerous job. They need to run and attack, maybe sometimes they have to say bad words. But at the end of the day they are feminine women. They also like to study and learn."

Veiled Police features Ms Al Baloushi, a national judo champion and self-defence trainer at the women's police school; Asmaa from the Crime Scene Investigation department; Lt Col Maryam, the head of the DNA and forensics laboratory; Ms Saleh, an eight-time shooting champion; and Mrs Al Shehhi, one of the youngest female paramedics in the country.

The film highlights the various aspects of their lives.

They are shown in uniform performing their duties, at home with their families and socialising at the mall in their abayas.

"I hope this film will be an eye-opener for the closed-minded members of our society who don't allow their daughters to follow their dreams," says Ms Al Baloushi, 18, who adds the final version of the film exceeded her expectations.

"It had a strong impact, as if the five of us are representing all the sections of the force, each in her own speciality."

Sapozhnikova says the world is interested in finding out more about Arab women.

"They are not just neglected as [Europeans] think," she says.

"A lot are very smart and think of themselves as princesses and we see them as oppressed, but they are not."

She grew up in the UAE and spent years studying in Russia and working in Japan as a diplomat and then a journalist.

Veiled Police, the filming of which was recently completed, has already sparked international interest.

The Kazakh television network KTK has asked to broadcast it. "They are a Muslim country so they feel the connection, and they have zero information so they want to know anything about women here," Sapozhnikova says.

Muslim nations are not the only ones interested in the film. The director of La Femme Film Festival in Los Angeles, which focuses on films featuring women, asked to show Veiled Police at its event in October.

"I think any topic that has a political string on it is always interesting to the general public," says Leslie LaPage, the founder and director of the festival.

While La Femme has had a number of films featuring Middle East women over the years, they were mainly shot by men, Ms LaPage says.

She says the use of digital film-making means women from conservative countries are now able to deliver a message to the world that they were not able to before.

The appeal of this documentary film is that it features female voices from a conservative society and portrays them as strong and independent, Ms LaPage says: "It is different from the view of the Middle Eastern woman with five children who cannot express her opinion or has the will to do so."

hdajani@thenational.ae