Director Reem Al-Bayyat’s movie was recently recognised on a prestigious global platform. Behnaz Sanjana finds out more about the creative mind behind the production.
A few weeks short of 35, Reem Al-Bayyat is a young Saudi woman who has recently gained attention for her directorial project Wake Me Up which she also co-wrote. Her passion to narrate the story of struggles faced by women in her homeland paid off, as she was named Best Director in the Short Foreign Language Film category at the Madrid International Film Festival 2017.
Reem immersed herself in the art of photography at a very young age. She recalls: “I was seven years old then. I have always been fascinated being behind the scenes – it feels like real magic capturing moments forever.”
Years after clicking images, she naturally progressed to filmmaking. To learn the finer points of producing motion pictures, she studied at the Arts University Bournemouth, UK. “I did a short course in film making in 2008; it’s thea same art school from where I learnt photography. The real support came from my husband, the poet, Ahmed Al-Mulla.”
She says this helped her immensely to come out of the bubble she was living in, and, in a sense, made the world of filmography her oyster.
Giving us the gist of Wake Me Up, she says: “Salam, the central character of the film is a woman undergoing a midlife crisis, who tries to revive her artistic pastime and feels a lurking rejection by society and a sense of internal guilt.”
It took Reem three years to come up with this storyline, during which she also made two short documentaries with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – one in India and another in Korea.
The movie itself was shot in Bahrain and Qatif, Saudi Arabia.
Speaking of her dream experience in Madrid, she says: “It was fantastic – so well organised. I had the chance to meet so many people from around the world. I had zero expectations of winning; just being nominated was like winning. And I can’t deny that winning has a challenging taste.”
Her previous two works, Doll and Shadows, were her first steps into this field. She says: “The more I make films, the more I learn and gain experience. But I have to say that Wake Me Up has actually woken me up! Now, for the very first time, I know that I am ready to make a feature film.”
The movie has garnered recognition to a large extent due to its relevance to her society today. That being said, Reem doesn’t think of her work as a social message. She explains: “Making films, for me, is sharing my art with the world. I never think about sending any messages.”
She is grateful for the unconditional love and respect she experienced growing up. “During my childhood, I created my own world. I painted on paper, canvas, tables and shelves. I took pictures, filmed, danced, sang and even played the piano. I read books and surrounded my soul with world music each day as I grew older. With time and experiences, now I am a strong woman, wife and a mother of a six-year-old boy. I am so in love with my life and the new society that we have all created,” she asserts.
Although she admits to being a little apprehensive about the way society will react to her successes, it doesn’t stop her future plans. “At the moment, I am writing science fiction and, so far, it’s becoming more beautiful and powerful than anything I have done before. I have so much in the pipeline – writing my feature film, making digital collages every day, and also working on my third video art, which I will soon publish on my YouTube channel.
“I am also a fashion and fabric designer. My brand ‘Reemoosh’ will hopefully become a worldwide label one day.”
Reem’s motivation to young Arab women is: “Read books and always be strong and brave. Life is inspirational, and we have been taught about the world but never about ourselves. So, I want all women of the Arab world to start a journey of discovery to find out who they really are. And remember, we are all special and unique.”