x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Screenwriter's dream comes closer with Shasha Grant

Haifaa al Mansour is now US$100,000 (Dh367,000) further towards reaching her dream of making Whyda , the story of a young girl struggling in Saudi Arabia.

ABU DHABI // Haifaa al Mansour is now US$100,000 (Dh367,000) further towards reaching her dream of making an international feature film. After two days of pitching her project, Whyda, the story of a young girl struggling in Saudi Arabia, the 36-year-old Saudi was awarded the Abu Dhabi Film Commission's Shasha Grant for screenwriting last night at the closing ceremony of the third annual Circle Conference. Al Mansour, who had her first film shown in Abu Dhabi in 2003 as part of the Emirates Film Competition, said: "To collect this award today means so much to me."

Ricky Strauss, a member of the judging panel, said the winning script "was a poignant and funny story, something like Juno meets The Kite Runner". Over the last few weeks, entries were whittled down from 80 to five finalists. As well as the grant, al Mansour also receives a first-look deal with the production company Imagenation, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns The National. The second prize went to When I Saw You, by Annemarie Jacir, who will be flown to the Melbourne International Film Festival next year to attend a five-day networking event.

Daniela Tully, one of the judges and vice president of development at Imagenation, said all the entrants were "very professional and very passionate" but the winner was the story with the most realistic chance of becoming an international hit. "We went for the script that was most likely to really be made," she said. "We are optimistic that the story has such an emotional core that is doesn't matter where in the world it is screened, people will connect with it."

Ms Tully said it was very encouraging to be on the judging panel, because she was now even more confident the region was full of talent. "We believe in this region, its stories and their tellers," she said. "Although they may not have the technical capabilities of more established industries, they have the content and this is the most important thing. We can take care of the rest." Last year's winner, Hicham Ayouch, from Morocco, has had his film, Samba, signed by 20th Century Fox, with distribution beginning next year. It will be Fox's first Arabic-language feature film.

aseaman@thenational.ae