1. ITV Report

Female director unlocks Saudi Arabian life in Wadjda film

It is a film made in a country where it will never get shown on the big screen - all the cinemas were shut down in the 1970s - a film about a girl who longs to own a bike in a country where until recently women could not even ride a bike in public

But none of that put Saudi film director Haifaa Al Mansour off.

A feature film had never been shot entirely in Saudi Arabia before but Al Mansour, Saudi's first female director, was intent on getting her movie made.

Wadjda tells the story of a ten year old girl, constantly in trouble for not wearing her veil, listening to pop music and deciding she would buy a bicycle so she could race her friend Abdullah - even though Saudi custom dictates respectable girls do not ride bikes, let alone play in public with boys.

It is an utterly delightful film, wonderfully played by the lead Waad Mohammed who was found not through the normal open auditions but more word of mouth to see who would come to casting sessions - finding girls or women to appear on camera in this most conservative of states was very hard say the filmmakers.

Wadjda wants to buy a bike. Credit: Soda Pictures

Alongside Wadjda's struggle to make enough money to buy a bike by entering a Koran recital competition - even though she is constantly on the brink of being expelled from school - is the story of her mother's struggle to prevent her husband from taking a second wife so he can have a son.

The mother is shown being driven around by an insolent driver - in Saudi Arabia women are banned from driving and need a male guardian's permission to work.

Wadjda is told the bike is too expensive. Credit: Soda Pictures

Al Mansour says she wanted to show the everyday lives of women in the Kingdom without being too preachy - it is therefore a gentle story of a girl's determination to get what she wants in an environment that tells her that her wishes will always come second to a male's.

There is a family tree at Wadjda's home but only men can be put on it. Wadjda's is delightfully defiant and the ending of the film left not a dry eye in the screening room.

Wadjda is defiant. Credit: Soda Pictures

Al Mansour's achievement as the film's director and writer is made all the more extraordinary when you realise the obstacles she faced.

Saudi Arabia is moving forwards she says - under King Abdullah there are moves to give women better education and they will now be allowed to vote in municipal elections, the only public polls held in the Kingdom.

Wadjda's mother wants to try a new dress. Credit: Soda Pictures.

But even though the King gave the director permission to make her film in her homeland, she still had to hide in a van or under cover of a tent if they were filming in conservative areas with men on the set, where locals disapproved of women mixing professionally with men in public.

The director became an expert, she said, in directing by walkie talkie or even shouting so she could be heard by her actors when she wasn't allowed to be present in person.

Wadjda and her mother. Credit: Soda Pictures.

Al Mansour who has worked in television and in 2005 won international acclaim for her documentary Women Without Shadows, divides opinion in her homeland - between the progressive Saudis and those who are conservative.

But Wadjda should first and foremost be seen for what it is - a beautiful, touching film of life in a country whose stories we seldom see.

That is a woman who has brought us this story from Saudi Arabia no less makes it no less impressive.

Al Mansour hopes her film will get shown on TV or on DVD in her homeland as there are no cinemas to show it, but elsewhere the film which has already wowed festival audiences, comes out next week.