Saturday, January 21, 2012


The image of a typical woman in Saudi Arabia is an oppressed and coy lady draped in the Abaya (the traditional Arab cloak). However, two women, Dania Nassief and Danya Alhamrani, have been able to break the stereotype to some extent. With their steely determination to add some value to the society they've starting producing incisive documentaries that examine social, cultural and religious issues. As the founders of Eggdancer Productions, a Jeddah-based  independent film and TV production company, they've shown the courage create something exceptional as opposed to run-of-the mill progarms. Incidentally Eggdancer is the first production company in Saudi Arabia to be owned and managed entirely by Saudi women (they had to petition the government to change a rule that mandates a man to run a company).

Dania is widely regarded now as an independent visionary producer who has worked on a variety of projects. Dania Graduated in 2002 from University of Southampton,UK with an MSc. Degree in Information Systems majoring in e-business/e-commerce. On the other hand Danya has been directing television shows and documentaries from the last seven years. In 2006 she co-founded Eggdancer Productions, with Dania. Her most recent projects include the documentary film ‘The Old City of Jeddah’ and the documentary series Akla Wa Hikaya (A Meal and a Story)-- a food and culture series that explores traditional Saudi cuisine. Her documentaries, The Straight Path and Ramadan, aim to educate an international audience on Islam and Muslim life.

They further came into the limelight when they were featured in Travel Channel’s (a famous US-based travel programme) “No Reservations” program, which featured renowned chef Anthony Bourdain.

In her first interview to an Indian media house, Danya Alhamrani spoke to yours truly sharing her views on the kind of work they do, the challenges they have to face in a conservative society, and the future of her country in the Arab spring.

Q.1 : What inspired you to create Eggdancer Productions?

DANYA :  After working in the production field for a few years in Saudi Arabia I realized that I was working on projects that didn’t interest me. So I decided to start my own production company to work on projects I enjoyed. That’s how we started Eggdancer Productions.

Q.2 : How did the association with Dania happened?

DANYA :  Dania and I have been friends since high school. After teaching in a private college for five years she was looking for a change. I asked her if she wanted to partner with me and start a production company together to combine our skills of arts and management. She agreed and that’s how we became business partners.

Q.3 :  What are the challenges you had to face in setting the company?

DANYA : Setting up our company took longer than we expected. We were surprised to see that we needed to have a man as our managing director!  We petitioned the government and got and exception and are now able to run the company ourselves.

Q.4 : What kind of films have you made till now at Eggdancer Productions? What is your future project?

DANYA : We work on documentary films and TV series.  We have produced a documentary series Akla Wa Hikaya (A Meal and a Story), which aired on Saudi TV, explored the different regional foods in Saudi Arabia, and the TV series Fattabiouni highlighted some of the teachings of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) using animation and kinetic text. We have also produced segments for ZDF in Germany called    “Herrscherhäuser aus 1000 und einer Nacht (Dynasties of 1001 nights” highlights issues of press, employment and women in the workplace in Saudi Arabia) and a film for BBC called “The River Flows West( tells the story of the Muslim empire. It begins at the time of the prophet Mohamed PBUH and takes a journey into modern times.)
We are currently in production on two documentary features: “Jeddah: The Old City”(a documentary highlighting the historical city of Jeddah) and “Let Me Entertain You”.
In the future we hope to continue our work in documentary as well as work on shorter projects for online digital distribution.  

Q.5: How was your experience of working with Anthony Bourdain like ? How did you get to meet him ?

DANYA : Working with Anthony Bourdain and his entire team was a pleasure. It’s wonderful when you are working with professionals and still have a relaxed feeling on location.  I met Bourdain through the Fanatic special that they were working on when I was chosen as the winner of the competition.

Q.6.: What do you feel about the status of the women in Saudi Arabia?

DANYA : The status of women is constantly evolving in Saudi Arabia.  There are opportunities now that didn’t exist for women 10 or 15 years ago.

Q.7. : Being women yourself, didn’t you face any opposition from your family when you decided to get into film production? What has their role been in all this?

DANYA : Things have changed so much since we were younger. People regarded filmmaking as a hobby without a future. But today many young people are going into filmmaking these days. I struggled a lot when I was younger to convince people that this was something I wanted to do with my life and that it wasn’t just a fleeting passion. It took me a very long time to get to where I am today--a full time filmmaker.

In many ways being a woman it is easier pursue what is regarded as an alternative career, because we are not expected to support a family financially.

Q.8. :  Both of you have been educated in Western countries. What was your experience like there? What difference do you see in the way they perceive women and their rights?

DANYA : Contemporary Western media has a tendency to portray Arab, Muslim women as oppressed. The opinion of the average person becomes a reflection of that portrayal. This encourages us as filmmakers to try to reveal the reality of the participation of women in our culture to the development of our societies. We also think it is important to represent the extreme diversity of women in our country. There is no one voice of a Saudi woman and this is something that we continually are trying to raise awareness about.

Q.9. : What are your future plans? How do you plan to enhance the image of Saudi Arabia to the world through the medium of your films?

DANYA : We feel we have a pivotal role to play in transforming stereotypical representations of Arabs and Muslims in the media. We have the opportunity to tell our stories in our own voices, instead of having people with little understanding of our religious and cultural backgrounds speaking for us and telling local stories through “Western” eyes.



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