A documentary film commissioned by UN Women has premiered at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival in Germany. In the Shadow of a Man is the first film from young female Egyptian-British filmmaker Hanan Abdalla, and is the first to be commissioned by UN Women in Egypt. Cutting across class and geography, Shadow is an intimate portrait of four very different Egyptian women as they tell their stories of marriage, divorce, work, love and resistance — and what it means to be a woman in the wake of their country’s revolution. The film mirrors the women’s lives in Egypt’s broader struggle for freedom and self-determination, in what the Berlin Film Festival organizers have described as “a powerful, intimate and … explosive portrait.”
Amidst the snowy weather and the excitement of the festival — which is the world’s largest publicly attended film festival — the premiere brought gender equality issues to the forefront of the discussion about the Arab Spring. Following the three screenings, lively question-and-answer sessions with the director demonstrated the power of film to inspire empathy and debate. Audience members spoke of being moved and inspired by the bravery of seemingly ordinary Egyptian women.
“Having In the Shadow of a Man premiere at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival has been a real honour, and the whole experience has been overwhelming,” says Abdalla. “I am truly lucky to have been given the opportunity by UN Women to make this film. Its premiere in Berlin is the beginning of its journey, and I’m excited about where it will go next.”
UN Women was proud to support Abdalla’s first foray into professional filmmaking. The partnership embodies part of the support of UN Women’s office in Cairo for the role of young people in the struggle for gender equality, as well as its belief in the power of film as an advocacy tool. As stated by Maya Morsy, the Country Coordinator for UN Women in Egypt: “We are ready to put our faith in Egyptian youth, who bring so much soul into everything they do. We took the opportunity to work with Hanan on her first experience: it was a risk, but what she gave us was a very powerful and honest reflection of Egyptian women.”
The film will be followed later this year with a second documentary, also by Abdalla, which follows women candidates as they run for the first parliamentary elections in Egypt since the Arab Spring.
Following the film’s success at the festival, those involved hope that its message of equality and resistance will reach even larger audiences across the world, as well as in Egypt itself. As Hanan Abdalla observed: “Small acts of resistance are not to be underestimated, especially when they are rooted in larger issues. Deep down, the women of Egypt know the future is theirs.”