Stefanie Brockhaus & Andreas Woff. Germany/Saudi Arabia, 2017, 90'
World Premiere
Tuesday August 8th, 11.00, Cinema Teatro Kursaal
Wednesday August 9th, 18.30, L'altra Sala

en / it / de / fr

Imagine a European TV channel attracting millions of viewers across countries with poetry readings. This is exactly what Abu Dhabi TV has managed to do for a decade with the show Million’s Poet. This talent show looks for a super star of precise language. After accusing extremists on stage, the Saudi woman Hissa Hilal, who was shrouded in an abaya - a black cloak - and a niqab, received death threats. And the attention of the West. The German filmmaker Stefanie Brockhaus saw a picture of her in the New York Times and travelled with Andy Wolff to Abu Dhabi a few days later to accompany Hilal at the finals of Million's Poet. Later, the directors filmed Hilal in her home town of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia during a shopping outing and interviewed her about the position of Saudi women.

Such a portrait film stands and falls with the protagonist. The filmmakers found a true star in Hissa Hilal. Hilal’s eyes, often shown in extreme close-ups, express sorrow, anger, but also humour and zest for life; the rest of the face is covered throughout the film. But Hilal is not only charismatic, but also intelligent and articulate.

'Women,' she says, 'are the soul of society.' According to Hilal, if women are as isolated as in Saudi Arabia, society is undermined. She reminds us of the original reason for the burqa: It once served Bedouin women as a protection from the sun and attacks in the sparsely populated and protected desert. But today in modern cities, the compulsory cover only causes the oppression of women. This change, Hilal explains, is linked to a historic event, of which the directors found fascinating archive footage. At the end of 1979, the extremist Juhayman and his followers occupied the Great Mosque in Mecca and took hostages to protest against the westernisation of Saudi Arabia. The tragedy ended in bloodshed: Juhayman was executed.

'We could not tell HIssa’s story without referring to the history of Saudi Arabia,' says co-director and producer Andy Wolff. That both stories merge seamlessly is partly due to Hilal’s art of narration. But the atmospheric, sparingly used music by Sebastian Zenke and the editing also contribute to making the show images, archive material, desert views and interviews with Hilal a harmonious whole and to letting The Poetess open the door to a foreign world.

Flavia Giorgetta